Wednesday, July 31, 2013

false distinction

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

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Understanding Pope Francis: He is a Catholic!

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 29, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 26, 2013

The vocations extravaganza barrels on!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ah, Norcia!

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

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

I wonder if I should go back next year? 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nashville: an "it"city

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 20, 2013

St. Vincent de Paul Society

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

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

Thank you, Lord!

Now on to those other delayed projects!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Love and Responsibility

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

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

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

Monday, July 15, 2013

A little humility

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

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

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

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

Dare we say "yes"?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Who is the Good Samaritan?

Here is an example of needing to start with Jesus.

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

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

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

Friday, July 12, 2013

"You know the Way"

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

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

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

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

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

I need to be more explicit about Jesus.

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

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What I got this thing for

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

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Location:Park View Pl,Nashville,United States

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Back to normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Where I take my stand

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

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

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

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

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

That's where I stand.

Some good news about Vanderbilt athletics!

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

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

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My life is passing in front of me...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, July 5, 2013

A Priest in a Hilton Hotel

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

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

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

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Feast of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati!

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

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

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

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

Get to know him! 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Core Mission

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

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

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

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

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

Core mission.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Homeward Bound!

I'll be back in Nashville tonight!

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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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