Friday, May 31, 2013

A week at St. Bernard's Abbey

Well, almost a week.  I am very grateful for this place.  I have been coming here off and on for more than 30 years.  It has changed in many ways -- and so have I, like becoming a Catholic, etc.  But it has not changed from being extraordinarily hospitable: the Rule of St. Benedict meets Southern hospitality!

This time my visit has been associated with Totus Tuus training.  It is a very good location for that.  (I wish I could talk our diocese into having our priests' retreat here rather than at a state park.)  This visit has also been a time of getting into better shape interiorly, even though I remain way behind on work.  It has been a time and place to struggle and to come to peace -- not to pieces!  So I hit the road early tomorrow, literally the road to Memphis for a wedding but also, I hope, hitting a stride again in my work.  Let's pray so!

In any case, I give thanks to God for St. Bernard's!

Universal Holy Hour

On Sunday, St. Mary's will join the Holy Father and the Church throughout the world for a Corpus Christi Holy Hour at 10 a.m. CDT (conveniently just after our morning Mass!), which is 5 p.m. in Rome when the Holy Father will be leading the Holy Hour at St. Peter's.  We will use the same program that the Holy Father is using.  Come join us!

male and female he created them...

It never fails.  Of all the glories of Catholic theology, the thing that always gets the most engagement, at least from the age group I am dealing with, is what has become known as theology of the body.  I do have to say that there was a great deal of interest and attention when I was speaking yesterday about the sacrament of holy orders, but nothing like the engagement with the presentations on marriage, etc. 

I think that there is an urgency to find some answers for the hurt and confusion that our culture has imposed on the lives of these young people in the areas of marriage, family life, and sexuality.  They don't want it to be so hard.  The particular group I am dealing with -- a particularly faithful group -- are sure that there must be an answer -- a clear, crisp answer -- to the mess that they are experiencing.  Why is it so hard for families to be families?  Why is it so hard just to have a date?  The Church has such clear, crisp answers for so many other things.  There must be the same sort of answer for this pain and fear that they are facing.

Well, there is an answer, but it is not an easy one.  It is not clear and crisp.  It is messy and bloody.  It is the cross.  I think that Bl. John Paul was inspired, literally, to provide the theological synthesis that has become known as the theology of the body.  But an expertise in theology of the body will not cure an ache of the heart.  That is cured, to the extent that it can be cured, by picking up the cross daily and following Jesus.  Eyes on Jesus, not on self. 

The cross is so often an unwelcome surprise.  We want an answer, and what we get is the cross.  We have to come to the point of accepting that the cross is the answer.  Theology can show us how things ought to be and where they have gone wrong.  No small thing, that.  But for living in the imperfection, only the cross will do.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cranky Fr. Baker

I have been too tired the other nights of Totus Tuus training to notice any noise at night, but last night I did.  I am not at my best at these moments.  Actually, it was not bad at all.  I am mainly concerned that people get enough sleep.  Totus Tuus is a long haul on not much sleep.  Anyhow, one group that I was ever so slightly irritated with last night were awake with me early this morning.  I soon realized that they were pulling a prank on Brendan, which he will actually appreciate.  When they were finished, they asked if the monks had prayers at 6 because they wanted to go.  And I am supposed to be cranky about that?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Totus Tuus

Of all the great things that I am involved in, I would say that Totus Tuus holds a special place.  Totus Tuus is something like a traveling Vacation Bible School.  Sort of.  College students and seminarians train to go into parishes for a week at a time and run catechetical programs for grade school children during the day and for high school children in the evening.  They promote the programs at the parish weekend Masses.  They stay with host families.  At the end of the week, they move on to another parish.

Generally speaking the parishes love it.  But even more so it is such good formation for the young people running the program.  First of all they pray.  They work hard and together.  They live on what is given to them.  It is really good formation.

So this week, I am at St. Bernard's Abbey in Cullman, Alabama serving as chaplain for the training for the Totus Tuus teams of the Diocese of Nashville, the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and the Diocese of Knoxville.  It is a blessing to be with such good and generous young people!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Pictures from the beach

Sr. Mary Rose and Sr. Margaret Andrew

The Cranky Professor and me

Moon over the beach

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Prayers, please

Although I have been on vacation at the beach with my family this past week, I did make one pastoral visit -- in Pensacola.  I ask your prayers for Joseph Kane and for his family.  Soon after he had come home from school at Florida State, he went out kayaking with his family dog on the bay near his home.  This was two weeks ago tomorrow.  He has not been heard from since.  The kayak was found three days ago washed up on a beach far east of where he put in.  But nothing else has been found. 

Joseph's sister Jessica was a student at Vanderbilt when I arrived here.  Her wedding to John Murphy -- the first person I talked to at Vanderbilt once I was named chaplain -- was my first Vandy Catholic wedding.  Jess and John were in Pensacola so I stopped by to visit at her parents' home, where their reception had been held.  I got to see their children, Thomas, whom I baptized, and Lucy.  Friday was their fifth wedding anniversary.  The Murphys live in Cincinnati, where John is from.

I was informed of the gravity of the situation by Colleen McCarron Nixon, my first Belmont connection, who coordinated music for many Masses and events, including the Murphys' wedding.  Colleen lives in Tallahassee, where she is from, and is the music director of the Cathedral, which hosts the Florida State campus ministry.  Joseph was very active in the ministry.

Let's pray for Joseph and for his wonderful family.

Our Lady, Star of the Sea, pray for them!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Servant Leadership

As a priest these days (or any days), I know that I am called to leadership.  It is intrinsic to a priest's conformity with Jesus Christ, the head of the mystical body.  But what sort of leader?  Jesus was an amazing leader but not one who conforms to any model that I know of leadership.  He really means all that stuff about being a servant.  He really lives what his cousin John the Baptist said about decreasing.  He really has no interest in the powers of this world.  He really does empower those He calls and serves.

I ask for your prayers in trying to lead in His way.  It is frankly kind of messy!  Most people don't even want to be led His way.  I need constantly to let Jesus call out and empower those in my care.

Let me give you a couple of examples.  As I get my feet on the ground at St. Mary's, I see families with children.  The Church calls on me as a pastor to assist the parents of these families in educating their children in the faith.  That is exactly what I want to do: to help the parents but not to take over for them.  I hope that this comment is not unfair, but I think that too often pastors and parents have been too willing to increase the role of parish or school catechesis and to decrease the role of the parents.  I might be too hasty in my judgment.

Another example is stewardship.  I want to try to encourage the practice of stewardship in the parish.  I think that there are some good practices in the way the parish conducts its finances that can help with this concept.  The people need to give, to be generous.  The Church does not need to receive.

I think that the parish has a role to play but at the end of the day, I am not so interested in parish buildings or programs but in the discipleship of the parishioners in families, in friendships, in the community, etc.  The same is true for the students of University Catholic.

We do need buildings and programs, but I don't need to own or run them.  Many, many of the lay faithful are much better at those things.  I can help to form the disciples.  It seems to me that this is the main way that Jesus exercised His leadership.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

To the Outskirts

Pope Francis keeps calling us to go to the outskirts, to the margins, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I want to do this, in fidelity to the assignments given to me by Bishop Choby.  In a certain sense, my assignments are far from the outskirts.  St. Mary's is in the middle of downtown.  Vanderbilt is an insiders' circle.  What does it mean to go to the outskirts when you are assigned to places at the center?

Of course, we are still connected to the rest of the city and the world.  The opportunities to serve at the margins are only steps away.  But are there outskirts and margins even at the center of things?  I think so, and I think that we are called to figure out how to reach there.

Someone once referred to all the state office buildings that surround St. Mary's as the place of many unhappy faces.  Is there a way to reach that unhappiness?  There is quiet despair among the elites at Vanderbilt and the hipsters at Belmont.  Is there some way to reach that despair?

There is so much fear.  There is so much loneliness.  I am thinking that the best way to begin to go to the outskirts when one lives at the center is to invite the margins in: into joy, hope, peace, love.  I find St. Mary's and University Catholic to be communities like this, but we need to become more contagious!  A wise priest I know emphasizes "meeting the people" as the overlooked step in pastoral planning.  So let's do it: meet the people!  The good thing is that we don't have to go far. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Synchronicity with Pope Francis

I saw this expression in a blog I read from time to time.  (although "synchronicity" -- no "r"-- was misspelled.  Hey, I can't believe that I noticed a misspelling!  That reminds me that I have started re-reading Flannery O'Connor's letters, a gift to me this week from one of our seminarians.  Her "innocence of spelling" is just one more thing to love about Miss O'Connor.)  OK -- back to the point.  I am running into examples of Pope Francis commenting on things I am experiencing just then all the time!  Just yesterday, I went to confession and the advice given to me was very much like a point that the Holy Father made in his homily yesterday.  My confessor pointed me to Peter for the need not to focus on my sins but on beginning again, as Jesus invited Peter to state his love three times in reparation for his triple denial.  I don't think that the Holy Father is particularly in synch with me.  I think that Pope Francis is simply with us and leading us.

His leadership is so refreshing, especially in light of the sort of secular leadership we are enduring these days.  I think that I will try to focus more and more on letting Pope Francis guide me in how to follow Jesus and pay less and less attention to all the nonsense in Washington, Kirkland Hall, and elsewhere.  We live in a corrupt culture and one that is getting more corrupt all the time.  But hey, Greco-Roman culture of the first centuries of the Church was no picnic either!  The Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers, and the Fathers of the Church were not primarily concerned about the terrible culture they lived in.  They did live in it and did have to deal with it.  Hey, they actually changed it in many ways!  But the record they left was mainly about Jesus in the scriptures and the sacraments of the Church.  This seems to be very much the approach of Pope Francis.  I will try to get in synch with him.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Backseat Christians

Another great image from Pope Francis: "There are backseat Christians, right? Those who are well mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and Apostolic zeal. Today we can ask the Holy Spirit to give us all this Apostolic fervor and to give us the grace to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church, the grace to go out to the outskirts of life."

Ouch!  That hurts.  

I wonder just what backseat he has in mind.  The backseat of the Church -- always the most popular -- where it is so easy to disconnect from what is going on?  The backseat of a classroom where it is easier to hide?  The backseat of a car because it is safer?  The back bench in Parliament where you don't have to say much or even show up all that often?  The backseat of the bus where the well mannered (albeit persecuted) stayed in their place?

Old Time Maladies

I guess that it is fitting that I seem to suffer from old time maladies.  Last year, I had shingles.  Blessedly it seemed to be a mild case.  And now my sore foot turns out to be gout!  Well, that's embarrassing.  It's all that high living.  Actually, my diet has been atrocious, and I am sure that I could treat my kidneys with more care or at least with more water.  Thanks to my doctor and old friend John Shaw for his prompt diagnosis and treatment.  I know that these have reduced the discomfort very much.

I am actually grateful for both of these sicknesses.  It seems to me that they are good examples in my case of the connection between body and soul.  I have a pretty good idea what triggered the shingles last year -- too much worry, just as I have a near certainly about the dietary origin of the gout this year.  They both have pulled me up short and caused me to reconsider things, at least for a time ;-)  I have had stresses and pressures, probably more than usual, in the past year.  My body is telling me that I have not been coping with them well and virtuously.  My confessor could tell you much the same thing, although he keeps the seal better than my body does!

I have found the last two years particularly stressful, actually for different reasons.  I am not sure if they have been objectively all that stressful, but I have experienced them that way.  But that is not a good enough reason to fail to cope well, either spiritually or physically.  Last night, Caroline's movie night at Frassati House was showing Life is Beautiful.  OK, being thrown into a Nazi concentration camp, as well as your wife and child -- that's stressful by anyone's definition.  And yet...and yet sacrificial love transformed the stress into a game and ultimately into triumph.  Just think what a little more sacrificial love could do for my little bouts of stress.  But I seem to prefer shingles and gout to love!  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hermeneutic key for Pope Francis

Set your search for the "eh?"s in Pope Francis's homilies and talks, and you will be in for a treat. He seems to throw in an "eh?" every time he says something that is a really great smack down!

A similar hermeneutic short cut for St. Josemaria: anytime he says anything really important, he says it in Latin first!

You're welcome!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Surrender to God...

This is the beginning of the antiphon for the first psalm of the Office of Readings for the Tuesday of week two in the breviary.  I'm sure you remember ;-)  Actually, I do because it hits me "upside the head" every time I read it.  You know, I would like to do that: to surrender to God.  But I don't.  And we sure don't collectively as a culture.  All those little "I don't"-s add up to a huge "we don't."  I don't think you can tell by looking, but I feel terribly alienated from reality.  I live (and I think that you do too!) very disconnected from reality.  That is why I need to surrender to God.  He's real.

I often think of this in terms of the sexual chaos of our culture.  God's way just works so much better than ours.  But it is true about so many other things, like recycling or not practicing usury or staying home with the children.  All these things are better, not just abstractly but practically.  Being kind, forgiving, taking care of your parents, sheltering the homeless, praying, feeding the hungry, not killing people, etc. are all better than what we do.  Instead we organize all kinds of things to do what we want: contraceptives, euthanasia, huge bureaucracies, huge banks, social entrepreneurship, drones, etc.  I know this sounds like a mad rant, and maybe it is.  But I think we live in a crazy way.  So what are we to do?  Go off on a protest?  Become "occupiers" of some sort.  Nope.  Rather, let's be saints.

Today is the feast of St. Isidore the Farmer.  He lived in medieval Spain.  It sounds to me that he was a sharecropper.  He certainly didn't own the land he farmed.  He and his wife are both saints.  Although hard and certainly unfair in many regards, his life sounds real to me.  The lives of all the saints are real, even the ones caught up in the most alienating circumstances.  A Marxist would have a field day with St. Isidore's social condition, I am sure!  Although socially and economically alienated within his culture, he had surrendered to God.  He was free!  And you know what, you see his statue in just about every rural parish church in America.

You and I are also free.  Free to love God and to surrender to Him.  I know that St. Isidore has done much more good over the years than if he had been a proto-Marxist agitator.  We need the courage to do the right thing, all the time, no matter the circumstances.  We need to be radical disciples of the Lord Jesus.  We might have some effect on the world in worldly terms, but don't count on it!  Some saints have managed that but not many.  Or our statue might be put up somewhere, but don't count on that either.  But be real.  Be a saint.  Surrender to God.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


God wants you.  Period.  He doesn't want (or need, of course) your time, money, stuff, busyness, etc.  He wants you.  Yet we try to buy Him off with these other things.  That, or we run away from Him or ignore Him.  But He is insistent.  I hear people actually say that they know that God is calling them into deeper communion, and they run away.  They fear that He will take something from them -- something that they want to keep.  Well, they are right about that, in a way.  When we follow Him where He leads us, we do end up leaving behind all kinds of things.  But He does not take them.  We give them away.

I see this fear starkly in the aversion to priestly and religious vocations, but it is there whenever there is a call to real discipleship.  I see it in the eyes of parents of the students I work with, thinking that their children will ruin their lives by doing something crazy like really living the Catholic faith.  I see it at some point with practically all the medical students I have known, as their dream of being a doctor hits the ethical difficulties of some of their training.  I see it in couples when marriage starts to become real -- when the honeymoon, as they say, is over -- and some struggle comes into the marriage, something that was not in the fairytale of their imaginations.

This is not the time to put on the brakes but to accelerate into the curve!

Let me shift gears a bit to encourage young men to jump to respond to a call to priesthood.  Forget the fear.  Of course, do not manufacture a call to priesthood, but if it is there (and you know if it is), go for it.  Forget the bargaining, the dread, the avoidance.  Just go on to seminary.  The devil wants to strangle off God's grace by destroying its ordinary channels: the family and the parish.  We see the field day the evil one is having with destroying the family as any sort of communion of sacrificial love.  Through the scarcity of priests, he is making parishes into corporations and priests into CEOs.  How boring and unappealing is that, for all involved!  And once started, the process tends to reinforce itself.  Priests who want to be priests are busier and busier, and that too is unhealthy and unattractive.  I know.  So what is the solution?  Well, to this problem it is: more.  More young men from right here willing to jump into the abyss -- of the love of God.

Monday, May 13, 2013

More on Nashville Catholic Culture

Yesterday evening I was standing in the rectory kitchen talking to Dillon Barker, one of the seminarians, who had literally just rolled in for the summer.  I noticed that people were starting to come out of the Cathedral at the end of the 5 p.m. Mass so I stepped out on to the porch to greet people.  I guess it's that extrovert thing.  Anyhow at a certain point, we had a whole cluster of young Catholic musicians gathered.  They represented every one of our Catholic Underground events this year, except one (Meg Murray):  Audrey Assad and her husband Billy; Marie Miller and her boyfriend; Vince Scheuerman; and Johnny Rees from L'Angelus.  Marie and her band, which looked surprisingly like L'Angelus ;-), played the final Catholic Underground on Saturday night before we took a break for the summer.  That is a pretty awesome gathering.  I suspect it could only happen in Nashville.

I had been at another awesome gathering on Friday night.  Patrick Bentley, the husband of my former assistant Kristi, had received his Ph.D. at Vanderbilt's graduation earlier in the day, and the Bentleys were having a party.  There were so many young couples there, many with University Catholic connections, who are having lots of children, with more on the way!  (Could some of this be chalked up not only to marital fruitfulness but to fertile chastity as well? -- I hope so!)  The Bentleys are great at bringing people together.  These young couples are bearing joyful witness all over town.

On Saturday I also talked briefly with Sr. Mary Sarah, O.P., president of Aquinas College, at their graduation at the War Memorial Auditorium, which is in my parish downtown.  She told me about a young man who is coming to Nashville to work at Aquinas and was encouraged to come to Nashville by the presence of FOCUS here, since he had been a FOCUS missionary.  Nashville is becoming a popular destination for former FOCUS missionaries.  I wonder why?  And Aquinas is attracting quality people here as well.

Sunday afternoon, I had a conversation with Sarah McLeod, one of the original Frassati Society members from way back when I was at St. Henry's.  I had prepared Sarah and her husband, Jimmy, for marriage back then.  Now their oldest is about to start high school.  I literally bumped into her in the rectory, where Fr. Neely had invited Fiat to have their end-of-year reception.  I talked with her about Fiat, Fraternus, Overbrook (where she told me of a former Nashville Totus Tuus missionary joining the faculty), etc.  I chatted with Christine Simpson, who now cantors at the 5 p.m. Mass at St. Mary's.  I saw the slide show with her mother and my sister giving a talk at Fiat earlier in the year, as well as pictures of my father from when Fiat visited Mary, Queen of Angels.  Speaking of Sarah reminds me of Chris Wohar, to whom I owe an email (along with about 1,500 other people) about the board meeting of Frassati USA -- located in Nashville, where else?

This is just one weekend and one priest.  Want to come join us?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Fertile Chastity

Here is another great concept from Pope Francis!  He was speaking to an international group of superiors of women religious and reminding them that their lives of chastity should bear the fruit of spiritual maternity.  He caused a little bit of controversy in saying that they should not be spinsters but mothers.  Much the same could be said of priests: that we are not called to be spiritual bachelors but fathers.  Here is what I think fertile chastity should look like.

Religious and priests should reproduce themselves.  Aging and dying religious orders and presbyterates are a sign of infertile chastity.  Low numbers of postulants and seminarians are generally a sign that something is spiritually wrong in the community -- not all the time but generally speaking, yes.  I once told our presbyterate soon after I was ordained that we were not attracting men to the priesthood because we were not attractive!  Yikes -- did I say that?  Harsh but true.  You have heard me say that I take this seriously and personally.  It is the best reality check for my priesthood.  Where are the men inspired to be priests by my example?

Fertile chastity ought also to bring out the maternal and paternal instincts in religious and priests.  We ought to want the best for our children and to save them from any harm.  Since we are spiritual parents, it makes sense that we should be concerned with the spiritual threats to our children.  That would mean teaching them the truth in charity and driving away anyone or anything threatening spiritual harm or death to our children.

Fertile chastity should also be kind.  Always.  Mothers and fathers often have to be strong and firm, but they should always be kind.  Ditto for religious and priests.  In the same talk, Pope Francis warned against careerism in the Church.  This is often the source of sour-faced religious and priests.  We are there to serve our sons and daughters, not to do what is convenient or advantageous for us.  Let our people be met with open arms first.  We are here to be inconvenienced.

One other related point that Pope Francis brought out is the need to live real rather than theoretical poverty.  Again, good parents know this.  The father who drives the mini (or maxi) van and the mother who rearranges the furniture and does wonders with a coat of paint are living poverty:  they are denying themselves for the good of the family.  I had a number of conversations over the weekend with young couples coming to terms with mom staying home to raise the children.  Good for them!  As religious and priests, we should be doing the same.  I celebrated Mass, sat in the confessional, and gave Benediction last night.  Then I went home.  There was really no need for me at the concert of Catholic Underground.  Let's be generous with what we need to do as religious and priests, and if something falls through the cracks, let it be from the inessential.

Parents are their children's only shot at parental love.  That is why a mother and father are so important.  Religious and priests have the chance to model directly the supernatural love of God for His children.  It is our BIG chance.  We can be professional, we can be lazy, or we can live fertile chastity.  But we can't have it all!  There are lots of professional people in the world doing good work for others.  But that is not what we are.  We are mothers and fathers.  Good work is not enough.  Love and tenderness are required.  Why would I be a religious or priest if being a teacher or counselor were enough?

In one of my assignments, there was a young man in the junior high years who was having a hard time and consequently giving others a hard time.  He need professional help, which he received.  It did him a lot of good.  He also received parental love and sacrifice and the love and sacrifice of one of the sisters in the school.  She was a true spiritual mother, not just a concerned teacher.  She really loved and prayed for him.  Her chastity was fertile in helping this child.  There it is: fertile chastity!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mass today

Unbelievable, but I don't have a scheduled Mass for today so I will offer the Holy Sacrifice at the Frassati House chapel at 5:30 p.m.  For those of you who are linked up by social networks of various sorts, you can let the word out, if you like.  In any case, Jesus (and I) will be there.

Last Event of the School Year

I made it!  We had our Baccalaureate Mass and family picnic yesterday, graduation is today, and ... that's it!  It has been a good year, and it has ended well.  But I am glad to have finished.

But it has come at a price.  I wish that I knew a way to apologize to everyone whom I have inconvenienced (or worse) by getting so far behind.  I hope to dig myself out, begin again, and not let it happen again.  That's the plan.  It seems odd to say, but it has dawned on me only in the last two or three weeks how crazy this year has been for me.  I have kept my head down and kept going -- until I just couldn't in the last week or so.  I have no one to blame but myself.  Sure, I have had a lot of responsibilities this year, but I needed to use better judgment in managing it all.  As my father says, good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment.  I have the first two steps of that process down.  Let's hope I move on to the third!

I hope that I have learned something more than time management.  If I just get more efficient at doing stuff, I have not learned much.  My interior life has to be in order.  I have begun to see that I am not much use in serving others, if I my life is out of order.  My behavior has been like an addiction, and doing more of the same is not the answer but actually part of the problem.  I have to embrace being out of control, of being powerless -- in this case, of having more to do than I can manage the way I like to.  This is the truth.  In trying to stay on top of things, I have developed some bad habits that I am trying to break.  Some of the worst of these habits are my attitudes and expectations.  I suspect that I my problems with sleep are ultimately rooted in expecting to control things.

Part of my "driving therapy" with Dr. Bellet last week coming back from the funeral was to listen to a recording of Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P.  He is a funny speaker who develops wisely themes from the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Boy, did a lot of that hit home!  Yikes!  I need to quit trying to control things, in my case by running around like a chicken with my head cut off!  I end up just being pretty miserable and tired.  Much better to have more than I can do -- I think that's a given as a priest these days, or ever -- and then doing what I most need to do, including praying well, doing the things specifically assigned to me, resting, and getting the other things done by those who need to do them or not doing them at all.  It is not perfect, but it is better than what I am doing.  And it's sane!

OK -- way too much about me.  Once again, I am being blown away by the accomplishments of the students I work with.  Graduation time always exposes the cover that their humility has drawn over their achievements.  They are so good!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Culture War?

Are we involved in a "culture war"?  I don't think that we should think so because we are losing it, if we are!  Just look at the same-sex marriage debate.  Also in a war, ones goes looking for allies.  I wonder if we really have any.  I am reminded of a song from the King and I (I was in this play as a little boy and still remember practically all the words to all the songs!) where the king is wondering:  

Shall I join with other nations in alliance?
If allies are weak, am I not best alone?
If allies are strong with power to protect me,
Might they not protect me out of all I own?

In the great cultural divide of our times, we find some issues aligned on the conservative end of the political spectrum: opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and government interference in private and family life.  But we need to consider the fact that many things on the "right" side of the cultural divide are also problematic: consumerism and corporatism, knee-jerk reaction to any gun control or immigration reform, and adventurous military intervention.  The reason why a good Catholic really does not fit into the political culture war framework is that it is entirely secular.  It is ultimately only about this world and not about God at all.  This should not be the way we operate.  As Catholics we recognize the Church's teaching authority to guide us in the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is what matters (or should matter) to us.  Period.

The culture war fought on political grounds is not our war.  But we should be fighting a culture war: a culture war fought on cultural grounds -- culture is bigger than politics, after all.  What would this look like?

Well, it probably would not have much worldly clout, but it would be beautiful.  It would be founded on marriage and family, and I don't mean just the external forms of marriage and family.  Husbands and wives would pledge their lives to each other as disciples of the Lord Jesus.  They would raise families with this priority.  They would resist both the hook-up culture and the culture of consumption.  They would be focused on home and parish.  They would see their careers and possessions as things entrusted to them to be used for the common good.

These families would be served by the Church, to which they would be dedicated in the service of God.  Priests and religious would live lives of simplicity and service.  They would live to love God and to serve His people, according to their vocations.  They would incidentally care for the institutions entrusted to their oversight.  They would be signs of the eternal in this world.

In such a setting, there would be time for appreciation for the goods of this world: art, music, sports, food, friends -- and politics.  There would be joy, forgiveness, and kindness.  There would be heartbreak, sorrow, and loss.  There might even be suffering inflicted by the powers of this world.  But if so, that would also lead to victory: the victory of martyrdom.  In the end, there would be glory -- the glory of Heaven! 

Let's give it a try!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Three Hail Marys

I just read that Pope Francis asked us to pray three Hail Marys for him, as he was leaving St. Mary Major on Saturday night after praying the rosary and dedicating his pontificate to the Blessed Virgin there.  That's it.

Three Hail Marys!  Awesome.  There is something about three Hail Marys.  If ever in any doubt, hesitation, temptation, or need for prayer -- say three Hail Marys in the mean time.  It can do nothing but help.  It immediately gets us into the supernatural realm.  It gets us out of ourselves.  It is a turning to our mother and His.  How can she refuse?

I love our Holy Father for helping us so simply.

Bury the dead

I just saw a headline about the Boston Marathon bomber who was killed in the shoot-out with police.  Apparently no cemetery will accept his body for burial.  Whatever happened to the seventh corporal work of mercy: bury the dead?  Martyrs have gone to their own deaths for burying the dead.

Come on Catholics.  Do the right thing, even if it is unpopular.

Monday, May 6, 2013

University Catholic is becoming...

There was a breakthrough on our end-of year leadership retreat.  Among the dozen or so students who attended, two were from Belmont and one was from Trevecca.  I think that we are finding our identity and our stride -- finally!  I will be the first to admit that I have taken some wrong turns in this process.

I have been impressed with successful programs at other universities, at first by St. Mary's at Texas A&M and then later also by St. Lawrence at Kansas.  I was so impressed by the intellectual formation offered at St. Lawrence that I plunged full steam into developing an intellectual program here that was not supported by student participation.  I hope that I have learned a little humility on the way but also a little self-confidence.  We need to be what we need to be -- not what is needed at A&M or Kansas or anywhere else.

What we need here is formation, and that begins with human formation.  In this process of formation, we also need to be a part of the great Catholic renaissance that is going on in this city.  It is a grass-roots renaissance -- certainly not centrally directed by the diocese.  But it is presided over by the gentle patience of our good Bishop David Choby, who "lets a thousand flowers grow."  It is a little chaotic and uncoordinated.  In this regard, University Catholic is a good representative of it ;-)  But it is really happening.

Here are a few characteristics of it.  It is young.  It is lay, although it craves priestly support and involvement.  It is orthodox.  It likes Latin names for its organizations :-)  It craves real communion.  It is bearing real fruit, especially babies!  It needs to put down some deeper roots.  It is free of agendas other than the Gospel.

OK.  What to do?  I know, pray -- The Nashville Catholic renaissance will be my special focus of prayer at St. Mary's leading up to Pentecost.  Let me work on this some!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

This time...

At this time of the year, I wake up and think about how to learn from any "train wrecks" I have had over the past academic year and how to improve for next year.  This year, of course, I have the constant of St. Mary's to add to the mix!

The big "train wreck" of this year has been to go for the "many" rather than to concentrate on the "much."  Remember the maxim: multum non multa -- much not many?  Well, I didn't follow it this year!  And so I have allowed myself to be irregular in many ways, just trying to stay on top of things.  This is a "train wreck" for sure.  On Friday, I had the benefit of Bill Bellet's company on the way to the funeral in Kentucky.  It was like hours of free therapy!  Poor Dr. Bellet!  Anyhow, on the way back he had me focus on the pillars of formation in my life.  How was I doing?  I didn't answer very straightforwardly at the time because I had not been living or thinking that way.  I had just been reacting to survive.  As I have reflected on the question, I see how I have been cutting many corners spiritually, humanly, intellectually, and pastorally.  The problems and the solutions became pretty clear -- so thank you, Bill.

I ask for your prayers as I try to begin again.  I am excited about it!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Ashland City

I spent most of the day in Ashland City today.  It is my hometown.  I was helping some of the awesome students of University Catholic give a retreat day to the confirmation candidates at St. Martha's Parish in Ashland City.  The college students were really enthusiastic, and the candidates were responsive.  I was very impressed.

I took the opportunity of being in Ashland City to do some business, including checking on the house where my father used to live before he moved to Nashville two years ago.  We have kept the house, at first because I was too overwhelmed to think about what to do with it and to get it cleared out.  Now I am glad that we still have the house because I hope that we might be able to use it more.

By chance I drove by the library because it is on the way to St. Martha's.  We had made a donation to the library a few years ago of many books of genealogy and local history that had belonged to my mother.  (She had been instrumental in the founding of the library.)  I wanted to check on what had become of the books.  I knew that most of them were not in the library, but there is the county historical society and museum in the same building so I stopped there to see if they were open.  Providentially, I met the county historian, who is someone I had known from my childhood.  She told me that she had rescued the books and put them to good use.  I was happy and relieved about this. 

I have this funny feeling that I am going to be more and more involved in history.  That is the way things have turned out for me, both in family and in the Church.  So be it.  I am happy to have found this connection to home.

And then I came to Nashville for Mass at St. Mary's.  See what I mean...

The Mass of Vatican II

I am thinking of trying an experiment this summer: researching how to celebrate Mass as closely as I can to the Church's idea of the Ordinary Form.  Among other things, I know that this would mean greater use of Latin, chant, organ, propers, etc.  (I don't think that it is actually all that different from what we are doing at St. Mary's or University Catholic now.)  But I am not sure exactly what the Church's preference is in every case.  I confess that I have come at the liturgy with a bit of my own bias at times ;-)  And I have given in to practicalities as well -- what people are used to, etc.  I think that I will go through the pertinent documents and try to determine what the Church asks for first.  Wouldn't that be a great idea?  No agenda of my own or of any one else -- just what the Church wants.  Even so, I think there is still some room for interpretation at times, but I will try to be as objective as possible.  It will be interesting to see what I end up with.  I don't know if I have every heard of this being tried across the board.  I am familiar with ceremonial guides and guidelines for music, but I don't know if I have ever seen it all put together from the perspective of what is recommended rather than what is allowed.

I will let you know how this is progressing, if you are interested.  I am excited by the idea!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Fancy Farm

For the second time in two months, I will be going to Fancy Farm, Kentucky.  I am going for the funeral of the father of a priest, who has been a friend for a long time.  His mother died in March.  Just like the introduction to this post, there is a lot to sort out.

First of all, let me tell you about Fancy Farm.  It is a small town in Graves County, Kentucky.  For those of you whose Kentucky geography isn't what it ought to be, Graves County is in the western extremity of Kentucky, west of the Tennessee River, south of the Ohio, and east of the Mississippi.  The area is sometimes called the Jackson Purchase, or just the Purchase.  Paducah is the largest city in the Purchase.  (My maternal grandmother was from another town in the Purchase.)  Anyhow, Fancy Farm is an entirely Catholic town, the westernmost settlement of English Catholics from Maryland who settled in Kentucky, most prominently in Bardstown.  The parish church, St. Jerome's, is the center of the town and where the funeral will be held today.

I remember going there for my friend's first Mass the day after his ordination in Owensboro.  That would have been in 1989.  I had just graduated from law school and was headed to seminary that fall at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, OH.  That is where I had met my friend during a visit to see the seminary.  His infectious personality and hospitality are how I ended up at St. Jerome's in Fancy Farm for the first time for his first Mass.  There were hoards of people there from out of town -- see the comment about his personality!  I was so taken by Fancy Farm.  As a relatively new convert to Catholicism, I had accepted its foreignness in the culture of the upper South, but here I found Catholicism and my culture blended for the first time.  These were rural, Anglo-Saxon Southerners and all of them Catholic.  I was amazed.

After that first visit, I have been back to Fancy Farm a number of times over the years, although I have never yet attended the Fancy Farm Picnic, the largest of its kind and quite an event in Kentucky political folklore.  I also became familiar with much of the rest of western Kentucky, depending on where my friend was stationed.  Five years later at the time of my ordination and my mother's death (just three months apart), my friend was truly a friend.  And some of his friends became mine as well.  I am thinking in particular of two ladies from Owensboro who basically put on my ordination reception.  And for my mother's funeral, he served as master of ceremonies -- plus.  I could not have made it without him. 

Years have gone by, and sad to say something happened to our friendship.  I guess that it is bad on my part that I can't say what exactly it was.  In hindsight, I can see many shortcomings on my part in our friendship over the years.  And I am aware of a big tension before things came to a complete cooling.  Yet I cannot point to a single event to correspond to the sudden end of contact between us.  This has been going on for about five years now.  Whatever happened, I was determined to keep doors open between us.  As bad of a friend as I might have been, I still could not imagine breaking off completely.  That has been at least one good thing that I have done.

When I heard that his mother had died back in March, I was determined to get to Fancy Farm for the funeral.  I was able to make it.  I was not sure if my presence would be appreciated, but I think that it was.  On hearing of his father's death, I called my friend, and he answered the phone.  And so I am going back to Fancy Farm.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

St. Athanasius

We celebrate today the feast of St. Athanasius.  He is a doctor of the church and opponent of Arianism.  He was exiled five times as Patriarch of Alexandria.  He is a great example of perseverance in the truth no matter what the cost.  He also wrote a biography of St. Anthony the Abbot, the great desert father.  His Life of Anthony is a refreshing account of a disciple who takes the Lord Jesus at His word and engages the Christian life as an adventure.  St. Athanasius is writing from admiration of this holy monk.

I think that the example of St. Athanasius is one that we should imitate today.  I can't find the quotation now, but I have read Pope Francis saying that it is better for the Church to be injured than to be worldly or involved in scandal.  We need to be purified.  Let's not fear the attacks of the world or the devil.  We must trust in the truth of Jesus Christ.  We might be battered and bruised, but if so we are in good company!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Today on the liturgical calendar, we celebrate St. Joseph the Worker.  Why May 1?  Do we commemorate some event in the life of St. Joseph associated in some way with this day or month?  No, it's because the Communists celebrated May 1 as a workers' holiday.  It is totally reactive!  The feast of Christ the King is another feast that came about in reaction to a political situation -- the rise of nationalism, especially in Italy.

Don't get me wrong, I am happy to celebrate St. Joseph the Worker or Christ the King for any reason, but the history of these feasts betrays a defensiveness that I do not think is proper for the clergy.  I have been reading a couple of light novels that I have found in the library at St. Mary's from mid twentieth century Italy.  They are comic, really.  (One of them is a Don Camillo novel, which Pope Benedict likes!)  They revolve a lot around the politics of Italy in the aftermath of World War II.  You see, Italy almost became a Communist country.  The Church rallied against this and basically allied itself with the political opposition to the Communists.  Well, Italy did not go Communist.  It actually had some inspired lay leadership, especially right after the war, that was very much informed by Catholic social teaching.  But the downside was that Church became identified with a particular political faction.  In these novels, there is a lot of gentle mirth made of just the sort of defensiveness that the creation of these feasts represents -- but on the level of the rivalry between the village priest and the local Communist chief.

I think that all of our recent popes are trying to break us from this sort of confusion of the political and the sacred, especially Pope Francis.  One of the few things that he has been criticized for is his record in Argentina during what is called the "Dirty War."  It was a time of military dictatorship during which many people seen as opponents of the regime simply went missing.  During that time, Pope Francis was the superior of the Jesuits in Argentina.  He was not particularly active politically in opposing the regime.  He mainly went about his business.  The poor in Argentina were suffering then, as now.  There were also schools to run, etc.  Some people seem to think that he should have been on a crusade against the regime.  But he wasn't, anymore than he is on a crusade against the immorality of the current Argentine regime of a different political stripe.  You see, he believes that Jesus is not a king of this world.  He is not indifferent to the political realities of his time and place, but he sees it in perspective.  So should we.

Well then, let's celebrate the feast of St. Joseph the Worker to help us to love God, who is a worker, to honor His saints like St. Joseph, who were workers, and to defend the rights and dignities of all workers.  But let's not have the Church get too worried about the Communists or whoever else is the political bully of the moment.  Where are they now?  Faithful lay men and women, well formed by the Church in conscience and in social teaching, are the ones to get in the trenches and do the right thing politically.

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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