Wednesday, December 31, 2014

So many things going right

Something about me makes it more likely that I will notice the few things going wrong rather than the many things going right. I want to begin to change that in the year of grace 2015. A review of this past year will serve me well as a platform for this resolution: many, many good things during the past year and a few painful or difficult ones.

Even things going wrong are opportunities: for a new beginning; for humility; for understanding; etc.

I am going to try something tonight that I suspect will not go right: Midnight Mass at St. Mary's. You see, one of the hip things about Nashville is a hip New Years Eve celebration downtown. Even though St. Mary's is north and west of the hip part of downtown, it is downtown nonetheless. But anyhow, we are going to give it a go. Somebody needs to be praying then, right? We will begin with a holy hour of Adoration at 11 p.m. and then move into Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

I am going to get there early to see what I can do to save some parking spaces and use the time for recollection. Join me if you like or dare!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

I am very happy about Christmas. I am not, however, very sociable this year -- see the post-before-last. I am bowing out of more and more pleasant social things to rest more and to pray more. For me, it is what I have to do right now. I am not in a "humbug" mood. I just prefer to be with Him. And for once in my life, being sociable is a strain for me.

Love comes down to us -- that is the message of Christmas for me this year. I don't have to reach up to Him. He comes into whatever He finds. He finds joy -- so many couples with a baby for the first time at Christmas. He finds suffering -- so many who are sick, even terminally. He finds loneliness -- so many in institutions. He finds exhaustion -- so many tired by cares and work. He finds it all! And He is just as present in one as in any other.

Let Him find you.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Killing sins

OK folks -- time is ticking away for Christmas confessions! Keep me busy today at St. Mary's. I have promised to stay until the last sinner is served from after Mass 'til?

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Melancholic in Advent

I suspect one of the reasons that I am so fond of Advent and of trying to keep it in the old-fashioned, somber way is temperamental on my part. You see, I am a melancholic (I think), and I need a somber prelude to the joy of Christmas. Maybe other people are joyful all the time, but I have this somber stuff to deal with in my life. If it is joy all the time, what are we melancholics supposed to do with all that stuff?

On Tuesday evening, I spoke at Theology on Tap at a brew pub literally across the street from where I live. I talked about "My First Christmas as a Priest." Let me give you a hint: it was somber. I won't go into the details of the talk here. (After the response to the talk, I think that I might write it up at some point.) But let me say that I cannot separate this time of year from times like that in my life. I am not morbid about it; it actually gives me hope. But that hope comes about in time, not all at once.

This year, to be honest, my melancholy is not all from memory. It is a present reality too. I am trying to skip out on some of the celebrating this year. I am just not there...yet.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Roll Tide!

My sister, Sr. Margaret Andrew, O.P., just received her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama in secondary education. If you want to see for yourself go here at page 13 or here at about the 59 minute and at the 2 hour 20 minute marks.

I am so proud of her! And I was so happy to see her big smile as she was processing out! I wish that I could have been there, but duty called. But I did watch :-)

Meet me in St. Louis

Well, I'm doing something that I don't do much of anymore and really shouldn't, but...

I am in St. Louis for the wedding of two former Vanderbilt students. I am very happy for them, and I certainly enjoy getting to see and be with so many former students. St. Louis is one of the "feeder" cities for University Catholic.

The wedding is at the old cathedral right under the arch -- it's even older and certainly grander than St. Mary's (although I do have to give Bishop Miles credit for what he built in Nashville at the time). We are staying at a hotel right downtown. This morning I walked to a real diner a few blocks away. It was the real deal. Check out the White Knight, if you are ever in St. Louis! And then I walked back down what was a grand boulevard, lined mainly by impressive civic buildings and little parks. Wow. St. Louis was a city, in a way that cities aren't anymore. The train station, court houses, war memorials, the opera house -- all on a monumental scale and  set in very inviting public spaces. Unfortunately, you can see the decline of the city, but these monuments remain and still inspire. When St. Louis was a great city, its private wealth and power to some extent was extended to the public life of the city. There are even grander public areas around Forest Park, and then there is the new cathedral. The arch would be about the last gasp of grand St. Louis. I don't think that cities see themselves this way anymore.

Nashville, for example, never was and still isn't the city that St. Louis was, but Nashville is in ascendancy right now. The sort of things that are being built in Nashville now are mainly about private consumption rather than public aggrandizement: the condos and swanky bars of the Gulch, for example. There is a bright spot here and there: the downtown library, for example, but even that is modest in comparison to these buildings in St. Louis.

Anyhow, it is fun to be in a city that once had a vision of itself as a public thing, a res publica.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

a small Catholic moment

Yesterday, I went to the funeral of a dear friend, Ruth Benson. The Bensons have been friends of my family for many, many years in Nashville, later in Sewanee, and at the beach at Gulf Shores. The Bensons have touched my family at many points over the years. Ruth had fought an heroic and graceful battle with cancer for more than a year. She approached her death as she had lived her life, with deeper and deeper trust in the Lord Jesus.

Bob and Ruth Benson converted to Catholicism over 20 years ago and had made Our Lady of Lourdes in South Pittsburg, TN their parish. It is down the mountain from Sewanee on the Chattanooga side. The church is very small and humble but quite lovely and traditionally devotional. The pastor is a shepherd of souls. The funeral was simply what the Church has in mind for funerals. We prayed for the dead. The homily was a pastoral reflection on death, with personal reference to Ruth by her pastor. The music was the unadorned chant of the ages. The small church was filled to overflowing.

The burial was at the cemetery at Sewanee, and the procession took the back road up the mountain. It was foggy and rainy at Sewanee. The carillon played, muffled by the fog. Finally, there was a reception in Convocation Hall, one of the prettiest and oldest buildings on the campus. There I saw many, many faces whom I have known over the years, especially at Sewanee.

This funeral was characteristic of Ruth: simple, dignified, beautiful, and full of faith. In all of those respects it reflected her perfectly. It was also a gentle Catholic witness in that most respectable enclave of the old Protestant establishment -- also very like Ruth's personal witness. I had a brief exchange (and slightly uncivil on my part), standing in the dripping rain outside the church. One member of the congregation was teasing about standing in the back of the church. He said that the Protestants didn't get a seat, to which I replied, I hope in good jest, that we Catholics had been kicked off the mountain for our part. We all laughed, but it did seem to strike a chord: the Catholic witness enduring on the periphery. I hope that Ruth will forgive me!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Happy New Year!

I have spent the last few nights since I have been back in Nashville at the house for priests at St. Cecilia Motherhouse. There is an older priest giving the sisters talks on religious life for the beginning of year of consecrated life that Pope Francis has called. Since there were no other priests in the house because of Thanksgiving, the prioress asked if I would stay here with Fr. Henchey. It has been delightful, like a quasi-retreat. It is a good thing that I don't live in this house all the time -- I would be so spoiled! I have been able to join in with prayers and meals as my schedule has permitted, and I have been able to visit with Father as well. He is a wonderful priest -- for 69 years! And funny.

I frankly stole his homily from Mass yesterday for Mass at the parish last night. The end of ordinary time and the beginning of Advent actually focus on the same things: the end times and the second coming of the Lord Jesus. It was about supernatural faith and hope as exemplified in the Blessed Virgin. How we are to wait and watch well, as she did. We have something amazing to watch for, as she did and does. We forget the supernatural so often: the fact that God has greater things in store for us than we can imagine.

So we can have peace and joy as we watch and wait. Everything wrong will be made right. We don't merely hope to survive but rather we hope to see the establishment of the Kingdom of God in which all is made right and just. Secular hope is survivalist. Christian hope is righteous: all will be made right. We are one year closer!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What I'm thankful for...

I am thankful for the love of God and for that love expressed through other people. I have been spending time with my sister the last few days. What I beautiful fountain of love for me particularly and more generally for just about everyone she encounters. I have learned so much about loving and therefore about really living from her. I am going home today, mainly refreshed by the love of God expressed through her love.

Love simply takes the edge off things because it comes from God. It doesn't really change how hard anything is. I hope that I give some of that love back to her and to everyone -- to take the edge off.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Catholic enclaves

I have come to Washington, DC to spend a few days visiting my sister. She lives at the St. Cecilia Dominican's new house of studies near Catholic University. I am staying at the Dominican friars' house of studies just around the corner. We have been to the National Shrine for Mass the last two days. We went to the new Shrine of St. John Paul II, which has a great museum. We have wandered around the campus of Catholic University a good bit. It is interesting to be in this Catholic enclave.

The gospel reading for today from Luke chapter 21 speaks of persecution providing the opportunity for giving testimony -- for martyrdom, to use the word from Greek. We certainly have that opportunity outside of Catholic enclaves, and we need to see it positively.

Whether in an enclave or in the wider world, we need to seek the way of vulnerability. We had a bit of an "enclave moment" even in Tennessee with the Amendment 1 campaign, which we won. Even though we won the Yes on 1 campaign in Tennessee, I am really much more drawn to crisis pregnancy work and post-abortion work. These services, I am afraid, we will always need in this hurting world. I would like for the Church to be known for these things first when it comes to abortion, rather than for the political struggles, even victories.

Let's enjoy a win every now and then, as well as being in a friendly enclave. But let's long for martyrdom -- for the opportunity to give testimony in a hostile environment!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A return to New Orleans

I made a quick trip at the end of the week to New Orleans to do a little pro-life research. I was with a New Orleans native and so I was immediately immersed in the wonderfully complicated culture of that city. I had not been there in over 25 years: my last visit was to see St. John Paul II! As soon as we arrived, we went to the dinner of the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese. Among those at the table were: my hostess and her mother and brother, a priest of the Archdiocese; next to me on one side was the superior of the Sisters of the Holy Family, an order native to New Orleans and founded by a free woman of color in 1842; Mary Matalin, who is a parishioner of my hostess's bother; and an older gentleman along with his wife who is descended from James Robertson, founder of Nashville. The speaker was the LSU baseball coach, and the honoree a federal judge heavily involved in Catholic charities.

On Friday, we had a meeting with the director of Louisiana Right to Life and the Respect Life Coordinator of the Archdiocese: the one a young man with good political instincts, the other a woman who has been in the trenches for decades. Awesome. Then we visited a crisis pregnancy center operated by Catholic Charities that has a mobile unit and -- something that I have never heard of before -- an OB/GYN, who comes in to see patients there. He has been doing this for 25+ years. Heroic.

Later we had dinner at a restaurant just down the street from the rectory of my priest host. We were with another federal judge, also a parishioner. This judge upheld Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban. Wouldn't you love to be in that parish? Sounds great so far. Indeed.

But all along the way, there were the odd incongruities, many of which had to do with politics. Is it possible to be as culturally dominant and politically influential as the Church is in New Orleans and not be tainted or co-opted in some way? It is interesting that the judge who made the heroic decision is an outsider to the culture of New Orleans-- a St. Louis native (who came to Tulane and never left) and a Jewish convert to Catholicism.

Such a beautiful city...and so complicated.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How this ever made the front page...

I was amazed to see this feature article on the front page of the Tennessean last week.

I really don't know how it happened. Chris Wohar is so authentic about her faith and so courageous about her defense of human life that it is hard to believe that such a secular media outlet as our daily paper would let her tell her story. But they did. Please read and thank God for virtuous women like Chris.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Better now

OK -- I think that I am over my politics obsession, even if it was just for Amendment 1. Yikes, how easily I get sucked into that stuff! Earlier in my life, I really was saved from going to Washington and becoming involved in politics on more than one occasion. I would surely have lost my soul if I had gone.

Even though generally on this same topic, I believe this post to be on a more pastoral level. What must pro-lifers do now that we have won? Well, more than we ever have, that's what. We must help people out of this part of the culture of death, and passing laws is the least and last of it.

Who are the abortion vulnerable? The babies and the mothers first of all. We save the babies, if we serve and save the mothers. We need to go looking for them. Planned Parenthood goes after the vulnerable. See where their facilities are. We do not have the zeal to serve and to save that we should. How about a mobile crisis pregnancy center? Here is an example from New Orleans.

More to come...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A little analysis

Nashville/Davidson County is the worst place in Tennessee. It had the largest percentage of "no" votes in the state on Amendment 1. Second worst place is Shelby County. It gave the greatest number of "no" votes, at a slightly lower percentage than Davidson County. But both over 60% (The only ones in the state). Yikes. The next two biggest counties, Knox and Hamilton went no but split almost 50/50. You have to get down to Williamson and Rutherford to find "yes" wins in big counties, both at 56%, but Rutherford's turn out was very low. The only rural county in Middle Tennessee to vote no was tiny Houston. That breaks my heart, as I was pastor there, along with Humphreys County, which voted fine.

On the "yes" side, 55 counties voted over 60% yes. Of course, many of them are tiny, but Bradley and Madison Counties were among them, and they are sizable counties. Seven counties voted over 70% yes. The really strong counties are mainly in rural East and West Tennessee, and on the fringes of Middle -- the Nashville effect, I fear. In Middle Tennessee, basically the Diocese of Nashville, the best counties are Lincoln and Lawrence, the very best of all! The lesson is: get away from big cities! How many times do I have to tell you? It is more virtuous in the country! Sacred Heart sounds like a good name for a parish assignment ;-) -- both parishes in Lawrence County are named that.

On a more serious note, I fear that it is only because of low turn out that we managed to win. And pro-lifers have to reach African Americans about the targeting of the black community by the eugenicists of Planned Parenthood.

I will want to ponder some more about these votes. What is affecting them? Urban/rural is the most obvious factor. Party is another, and race. But what about other cultural factors, like religion? It will take more time and expertise than I have, at least at the moment.

We winned!

I am very conservative when it comes to elections, but I am confident that Amendment 1 has won the referendum! Wow. A true grass roots victory over big money. This was the last and best chance to get this into the Tennessee Constitution. Of course, the victory is probably short lived, as the federal courts have taken to nullifying state constitutions. I am especially reassured in keeping my domicile in Cheatham County, which voted solidly "yes" on 1. Davidson County was by far the worst county in the state. O tempora, O mores!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Follow the money

Fertility is not a disease

This post somehow follows from the last one on final cause. I mentioned the young man who had an enlightening moment when the connection between sex and babies became clear philosophically. Babies are the obvious end of sex. Why else all that stuff that we will not go into here? There are neater and easier ways to say "I love you" but only one way to make a baby.

So fertility is something good. It means that things are working right, doing what they are supposed to do. And so often we treat fertility like a disease, both physically and emotionally. Fertility is not a problem. The fact that a young man and a young woman can conceive a child is a good thing, and it is the natural end of their engaging in sex. Oh, but we don't want to have a baby. Then back it up a few steps and change the behavior that leads to babies, but don't mess up something perfectly healthy like your fertility. Messing with fertility changes not only the biological end of sex but also the relational ends as well. If I have sex more or less just for fun -- that is, without the openness to a baby -- then I am not intending very much in the relationship. The possibility of a baby ups the relational value of sex. It makes it long term and not a quickie.

But I must have sex! Well, actually you don't. You won't die. In fact, you will be healthier if you have sex the way the Church tells you to, respecting its natural end of making babies within marriage. What you mean to say is that you will have to control yourself to act within reason. Very true. And if you do that, you will also have a happier and healthier life.

Unfortunately, we live in a time that has rejected right reason in favor of sentimentality. See the post above. We decide that we must have our desires no matter how disordered they are, like having sex outside of marriage or even within marriage using contraception. How sad for a husband and wife to use each other as if they were not committed to each other. In order to get what we want, we have to resort to so many terrible things, ultimately abortion. Abortion is the final "birth control." Killing is indeed an extreme from of control.

Human weakness in this area is so understandable, and we must have understanding for those who live disordered sexual lives -- because that probably includes all of us at some time. But we cannot abandon the high standard and liberation of self mastery through the virtue of chastity.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Final Cause

It is so fun to see someone catch fire intellectually: to find abstract expression for something known before only inexpressibly in the gut. There is joy in this. It is the acquisition of something good, and that produces joy. This process is far different from what happens so often in formal learning. The acquisition of knowledge is too often pursued for its usefulness rather than for its truth. This is utilitarian. We learn something for a purpose, and so it is more like work than joy.

Anyhow, there is a young man of my acquaintance who is finding such joy right now in philosophy. He is delighted in particular with the concepts of causality, especially that of final cause. This is the idea that the goodness of something can be determined by the degree to which it achieves its end or purpose. The concept of final cause gives objectivity to morality among other things. It really isn't just how I feel about something that makes it good or bad. It is good or bad because it achieves its ends or it doesn't. Indeed, this is a liberating concept. Thank you, Aristotle.

OK so this young man was talking very enthusiastically about how understanding final cause liberates in the area of sex. Why would one have sex if one were not in a position to welcome a baby into the world because that is a natural end of sex? Well, yes, it is pretty obvious. And it completely explains all the controversial things that the Church teaches about sex. It's that obvious, except that it isn't. Our culture has rejected the liberation of philosophy in favor of the bondage of sentimentality. We don't care if things are true but only if they make us feel good. That won't do.

To be continued...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Word Became Flesh

Call me a hypocrite for writing such thoughts in a blog, but I think that social media for the most part keeps its users on a superficial level. Facebook can be a way to stay in touch about events. I guess Twitter is nice for inspirational shots in the arm. Youtube can be good for an occasional laugh or to get something of true beauty out there that would never have another outlet. Some blogs ask deep questions or offer pithy insights and inspire respectful commentary. But these modestly helpful uses of social media are vastly outweighed by all the posturing, bad manners, propaganda, and worse that flourish on the interwebs under the guise of staying connected. Better to disconnect, in my book.

Let's especially be wary of evangelization via social media. I think it is virtually impossible. Sharing the Gospel has to be about sharing Jesus Christ through one's life and one's self. It has to be real, and that is exactly what social media is not. I am not an absolutist about this. The Gospel needs some sort of presence in cyberspace, but mainly just as a portal back into reality. I am not sure that I want people to listen to podcasts of my homilies (fortunately there aren't many), except as a cure for insomnia. Or anybody else's. Listen to homilies in church. Live life -- live, not remotely.

The Gospel takes time, generally speaking. It is not instant. And social media is about being instantaneous. Computers are instantaneous, but human beings are not. The Lord Jesus knows us in our humanity because he shares it. The Incarnation came about in the fullness of time. So I will now close my computer and get back to real life!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Yes on 1

This recording is what is actually happening to women in Tennessee.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

My Hometown

I gave a talk at the Awakening retreat last night. It made me feel old and from another world, rather that from just a few miles down the road. And then there was this condescending article about my hometown in the newspaper this morning.

I have spent eight years as chaplain of an "elite" university in an ''it" city, and two of those as pastor of a very old parish in "hip" downtown. Before that I spent nine years as pastor in two rural Middle Tennessee counties. The difference is so stark.

There is very little sympathy or even understanding of the situation of rural areas. They are dying. And a way of life is dying with them -- a way of life that is far from perfect but that is rooted in realities that trendy and urban America has no notion of.

I am grateful for growing up in a small town and for being pastor of other small towns. There is a danger of being small minded in small towns in some ways. But not the danger of the forgetfulness of everything but the present moment that is typical of trendy urban life.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rome of the West

I am in St. Louis on a fall break mission/vocation trip. The idea for a trip like this springs from the mind of Caroline Duffy, and it's brilliant!

We have been staying at the seminary in St. Louis (boys and girls, with the kindest hospitality), working with the Little Sisters of the Poor for two days, and having dinner in the homes of students from St. Louis. Today, the boys and girls split up in the morning to visit religious communities and then get back together for fun in the city. Tomorrow is Mass at the magnificent Cathedral and then back to Nashville. I am coming home today, for obvious reasons.

Anyhow, it has worked well. The Little Sisters are so awesome! Their home in St. Louis is in a rough and depopulated part of the city. As they say, just where they ought to be. And it is so neat to be in a city with its own seminary. There is a certain feel of being at home and taking care of home when there is a seminary in your own town.

St. Louis has the "infrastructure" that the Church imagines for a diocese. There is a lot of excitement in a local church like Nashville, but we are having to make up so much as we go along. Here it is solidly in place, hence the nickname: Rome of the West.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In the beginning it was not so...

It is hard to tell what is actually going on in the Synod, but it seems that the emphasis has been on pathologies of marriage and family life rather than on the way of perfection that is marriage and family life. For example, what to do about divorce, cohabitation, etc.

I hope that the Synod will not fall into this trap -- the trap of letting the world rather than God set the agenda. This trap was set for Jesus when he was asked about divorce, but rather than getting drawn into a consideration of divorce, which is a human invention, the Lord redirected to a consideration of what God's original plan for marriage was: the two shall be one.

Let's talk about how to get couples into marriage with good preparation and formation. Let's talk about how to support family life and the education of children. Let's talk about how to accomplish reconciliation in marriages and families. This is the Gospel agenda.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Beginning again?

As you have noticed, I have not been blogging much at all. I got tired of hearing me so I figured you all must be too! I am tempted to start again but this time not so much about specific things as the bigger picture.

OK, here goes: The Synod on the Family in Rome. Tuned-in Catholics are buzzing about this one. There was some document released yesterday about pastoral approaches needing to rely more on such human qualities as finding and encouraging the good in irregular situations. Of course, that's a good idea, but I doubt that it will work. Leaving theology aside, my hesitation about this approach is its reliance on human efforts to "solve" difficult pastoral situations. That requires superhuman effort and expertise on the part of ordinary pastors. Even then, it's iffy. We, the pastors of the Church, are not superMEN. We do have super powers, but they are supernatural ones, not natural ones. I might (or might not) be good at listening, even counselling, but every priest IS an expert in killing sins in the confessional or baptizing babies or witnesses marriage vows. Get people to the sacraments, and let God work. He promises. So if you have a humanly talented priest, good. Let him listen and counsel. But the emphasis on the Church ought to be on the supernatural means that she alone has to offer and that alone heal and reconcile without fail.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Zombie controversy: it won't die

See yours truly in The Chronicle of Higher Education. My quotation is quite a ways into the article.

I wish it were in The Chronicles of Narnia! As a little boy, I had a wardrobe in my bedroom. I would climb into it and stay for what seemed hours trying to get into Narnia. Never worked.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reflection on Fr. William Carmona's priesthood

I went to San Antonio for Fr. William's ordination with Fr. John Hammond. Actually, he mentioned to me that he was going, and I realized that I could -- should -- go too. Fr. Hammond was ordained this summer in the record setting ordination class of 2014 for the Diocese of Nashville, now up to 10 with the ordination of Fr. William. Fr. Hammond asked me to preach, not at his first Mass but at his second: a Solemn High Mass at St. Mary's. It was a votive Mass of Our Lady. Anyhow, it struck me that the homily that I preached for this Mass of Fr. Hammond, my companion to the ordination, would actually serve just as well as a reflection on Fr. William's priesthood. Here it is in the previous post, if you care to read it.


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Two days in a row, and I find myself bringing up predestination in a favorable light! Don’t worry, I am certainly no Calvinist, but the theme of predestination is clear in the texts of our Mass. Today’s Mass is a votive of Our Blessed Lady and a Mass of Thanksgiving for the ordination of Fr. John Hammond. Yes, in that order. The fact is that Mary’s Fiat and Fr. Hammond’s Adsum were both predestined by God. They were no surprise to Him, and to the extent that they surprise us betrays the extent to which we are seeing things not as God sees them but as man does.

Things are destined to go well. How else can God’s perfect creation go? And in Mary’s case and so far in Fr. Hammond’s priesthood, they have gone well. Of course, Father hasn’t had much time to mess it up. But even if he has messed it up and even when he will – and he will (That’s one of the heaviest crosses of the priesthood: to mess up God’s work) – we know that all is for good, omnia in bonum. Even the Blessed Mother, although she never sins, seems to need a nudge from God from time to time: those occasions, for example, when she ponders in her heart.

The Lesson at Mass today prefigures of Mary’s predestination, and the Gospel shows it working out practically. God’s “dwelling place” among His people that He has prepared as described in the Lesson is recognized and honored spontaneously by the woman in the Gospel: “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee and the paps that gave thee suck.” Even though this woman in the crowd has rightly recognized Mary as the predestined dwelling place of God, the Lord has to correct her as to why His Mother should be honored.

The woman in the crowd misunderstands Mary’s role in the history of salvation. Or at least she gets it out of order, and that is almost as bad! Fr. Hammond and I had a professor at Sewanee – God rest his soul – who assumed a false and funny modesty in translating references to feminine anatomy that would come up reading Latin poetry. He would refer to the heroine’s or the goddess’s “machinery” rather than to refer to body parts. Well, that is what this woman is praising about Mary: her "machinery," the fact that she physically gave birth to Jesus. Yet that is not what is special about what Mary did. Any woman had the “machinery” for that. Don’t get me wrong: the physical aspects of Mary’s maternity are worthy of honor, but not first. Remember order matters.

The interior is first: “blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” Jesus is constantly turning us to the interior. This interior receptivity is what Mary did uniquely, and of course it did have its physical manifestations. The Word actually became flesh in her. Nevertheless, her hearing and keeping the word is primary. And it is for us as well.

Mary had a unique way of hearing and keeping God’s word that was very literal. She actually heard the Ave Maria, and she actually responded Fiat. And it was indeed done unto her according to the Word. There are likewise specific ways that a priest is destined to hear and keep God’s word. The ordination ceremony is full of them! There is most importantly the silent gesture of the laying on of hands. There are the spoken promises. There is also the acquisition of a lot of the “machinery” of the priesthood: the things that can be seen, heard, and touched. The challenge and struggle of the priesthood is to hear and to keep interiorly all of these words and signs of ordination.

The very laying on of hands is the most powerful of these words, although silent. The power of the priesthood is conveyed in this silent word: the power to confect the Holy Eucharist, the power to forgive sins, the power of Holy Anointing, and so much more. These powers sounds like something in a super hero comic book with lightning bolts and other special effects. What keeps them from being something merely flashy is the cross that comes with the power, the requirement to drink from the Chalice from which the Lord Jesus drinks in His Passion. And this was conveyed in Fr. Hammond’s ordination in the very hands that rested on his head, the hands of our beloved Bishop which themselves manifest the burden that he carries for his flock at every moment. Those hands that he painfully flexes again and again so that he can lay them on the heads of those he ordains, so that he can receive from them their vows of obedience. Those hands, said to be healing hands, have reached out as the hands of Jesus Christ to so many in want or need, to so many seeking welcome or encouragement. To make a promise of obedience into such hands demands so much more than accepting one’s assignments. Obedience to such a shepherd requires a very generous heart that does everything to help this shepherd feed and protect his flock.

In his ordination, the priest also promises to be a man of prayer, especially for his people. Certainly he is to do what is expected of him liturgically praying the Divine Office and celebrating the sacraments, but he must pray interiorly until his heart breaks. I have spent most of this month at the Monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia, Italy. Sometimes I despaired of praying in the Basilica of the monastery because there would be so many noisy tourists coming to see the birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica. Fortunately, there was a small church just around the corner that was open most of the day. I grew very fond of praying there. First, because it was built as a church of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, for whom I have great devotion and whose heart literally exploded with the love of God. It is also dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows – the Adolorata. The image above the altar has, not little daggers, but rather a huge sword piercing Mary’s heart. I don’t know Italian, but I could make out the description of a miracle associated with this image. It seems that at a certain point, the image shed tears, and if that were not good enough, the tears caused miraculous healings. This became for me an image of what the prayer of a priest for his people must be: prayer offered with tears and groans from the heart for healing and salvation of souls, especially those most difficult to reach.

The chalice, paten, and vestments presented to the priest at ordination are definitely the “machinery” of priesthood – as well as so much other fun stuff! It would be impossible to imagine the priesthood without this machinery, in some form or another. They are as essential to priesthood as a womb and breasts are to motherhood, and yet they are secondary. As we uses these vestments and vessels, we are invited as priests to enter in the mystery signified by this “machinery,” the mysteries, for example, described in the vesting prayers: the amice as the helmet of salvation, etc. What we do not see at Mass is, after all, infinitely more important than what we do see. In the best case, what we see leads us beyond itself to what we do not see. With priority on the interiority of priestcraft, we behold the mystery, as St. Thomas so paradoxically has us sing.

As I frequently tell couples on their wedding day, this is a glorious day. But more glorious days are coming. The day, for example, 50 years from now when you will have done these things that you said you were going to do and when you will love each other so much more even than you do today because and not despite the struggles of married life. This is a glorious day for the Church in this Mass, one of the first offered by Fr. John Hammond. We are certainly being drawn into the mystery of our salvation in this Mass. But for Fr. Hammond, even more glorious days are coming, glorious days that are already present to God, that are no mystery to Him although they are to Fr. Hammond. The glory of “saving a thousand souls,” as St. John Vianney said was true of every good priest. The glory of the inexplicable reconciliation of a hardened sinner. The glory of fidelity to prayer. The glory of beginning again in the face of his own human failure or error. Those moments when he is driven inward because no outward explanation remains. It is the only reason for old priests! And finally on that day when perhaps he can do nothing outwardly priestly at all, when all the "equipment" fails, that will be the day when his predestined glory is fulfilled, hidden in the lifeless body of the Lord held by His Blessed and Sorrowful Mother. It will be accomplished.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fr. William Carmona, RIP

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him.

Fr. William died this afternoon. There will be a funeral Mass in San Antonio before his remains are taken to Colombia. Details are incomplete at this time.

Fr. William Carmona hangs on

As I understand, Fr. William Carmona is hanging on in a stable but very fragile condition. Please continue to pray for him.

Fr. Ed Steiner, the rector of the Cathedral here in Nashville where I live, pointed out the significance of yesterday's saint: St. Peter Claver. You see, Fr. William is from Colombia originally, and St. Peter Claver is a great saint and patron of that country where he exercised such zeal and charity towards all, especially to the slaves brought from Africa.

In light of this saint's life, I was reflecting further on Fr. William's ordination in San Antonio. I have always been impressed by that city's diversity that seems to work. The ordination was a splendid example of everyone working together for something good and beautiful, in harmony despite lots of differences. There were no turf battles or other signs of pettiness. The hospital administration and the seminary, the Texans and the Tennesseans, the bishop and the archbishop, words in Spanish and in English, faces and hands of many colors, all working for the glory of God and to serve Fr. William. I was struck by the diverse harmony in Fr. William's room following the ordination. The archbishop prayed the prayers of the dying at the invitation of Bishop Choby, songs and prayers were offered mainly by Fr. William's brother seminarians in Spanish and in English, the more demonstrative Latino style mixed with the more restrained Anglo, the spiritual and the human needs of the visitors being catered to by the hospital as Fr. William's medical care continued. It was the way things ought to be...and can be.

Viva San Antonio!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fr. William Carmona -- My Father!

Yesterday was a beautiful moment of grace as William Carmona was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Choby of Nashville in Christus Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, in the presence of the archbishop of San Antonio, many priests and seminarians, and a surprisingly large congregation. So many things and people had to work together to bring this ordination about. The hospital, in particular, deserves credit for extraordinary efforts to accommodate the ordination and keep Fr. William comfortable. And credit goes to Deacon Jim McKenzie on many fronts. In an amazingly dignified ceremony, given the circumstances, these rites were carried out. Fr. William immediately following the ceremony returned to the ICU where he seemed to take another step in the decline in his health. Thank you for your prayers.

I call William, "my father," because that is how he would always greet me in his enthusiasm. Father, my Father, William, may God speed you on your way!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Prayers for William Carmona

I am breaking my long silence to ask for prayers for William Carmona, a seminarian of the Diocese of Nashville. William is dying of cancer, which was discovered to have spread all over. Bishop Choby has gone to San Antonio, where William has been in the seminary and now is in the hospital in order to ordain William to the priesthood tomorrow, if his health permits. Let us entrust William to the intercession of the Blessed Mother, whose birthday is tomorrow. What a wonderful ordination day.

William spent a time with us here at the Frassati House when I still lived here. He was always so joyful and zealous. Let's pray that he makes it to priesthood -- a priesthood which is forever.

Monday, June 30, 2014

About time

Well, sorry for not posting for so long, and just a heads up that I probably won't be posting much while I am away. I am in Norcia now, a little and ancient -- and beautiful -- city in central Italy. It is not far from Assisi, if that is any help.

Norcia is the birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica. I am staying at a monastery built over the site of their home. I have friends in the monastery, and it is just the place for peace and good prayer.

My time with the seminarians on the Rome Experience ended well, but Rome was hot. It must be at least 10 degrees cooler here so it is much more pleasant for walks, etc.

Although this is an out of the way place, all kinds of interesting people come through. This will be a good time in many ways. But I think I will not distract myself with posting much. Let's pray for each other!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Thank you, prayer warriors!

Sr. Margaret Andrew passed her defense, with some revisions to do on her dissertation -- which I understand is pretty standard for such things. What is amazing to me is the fact that she was up to now working (and evangelizing) in a secular university. I think that her work will now be of use and interest for those working in Catholic secondary education: how to be a Catholic school more than in religion classes and religious practices. Her thesis is that it is possible to teach English in a Catholic way. Anyhow, thanks for the prayers!

I have had a good day so far in Rome, getting started on my work with the Rome Experience program for seminarians, as well as getting over my jet lag with a long nap this afternoon. I am sitting at my desk which literally has a view of the dome of St. Peter's. Life is good. It is especially good with the chance to experience some good order, in particular in my spiritual life, as I enter into the schedule here. After I finish here in a couple of weeks, I will be going to the monastery in Norcia for even more good order. And it does not hurt to be in Italy! There is so much beauty, holiness, and fun!


Monday, June 16, 2014

Calling prayer warriors!

Sr. Margaret Andrew is defending her Ph.D. dissertation tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. CDT in Tuscaloosa, AL. You know what to do. Pray. Fast. Offer it up!

I am on the way to Rome for a couple of weeks to help with the Rome Experience. Then I will be in Norcia for a spiritual "reboot." After tomorrow, you can pray for that.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dominum and Vivificantem

It's Pentecost!  I love Pentecost and never more than this year.

The event of Pentecost is what it really means to be spiritual.  It's not sitting around on pillows drinking Chai tea or anything vague like that. It is the power to live and proclaim Jesus as Christ and Lord. It is the power to make disciples of all nations. It is the power to live Jesus.

Lord and Giver of Life, indeed.  Dominum and Vivificantem!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Everything matters

or perhaps better, everyone matters. I think that is what Pope Francis is trying to tell us. This is certainly the message of the Church's moral teaching about marriage and sexuality. It is also the message of the Church's social teaching and of  the Church's teaching about freedom of conscience and so forth. It is a very counter cultural message. In our culture only I matter, which really means that nothing matters. It is very confusing.

We have got to care about everybody. That's hard to do, especially when you are constantly being told only to care about yourself. After a while, there really isn't time for anyone else, if I continually put myself first. Most of us can see this, but we fail to see how we are lured into this situation little by little, not all at once.

I have a simple, but not easy, suggestion to make. Start living like everyone matters. Spend more time, money, and effort on other people -- and on God -- than you can afford to. You will actually be set free. You will have more of all of the above: more of yourself to give away.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

truth incarnate

Pope Francis is certainly the master of the evocative gesture: So many on this Holy Land trip!

Some people are concerned about these gestures thinking, for example, that they imply a unity that does not exist among different groups of Christians or among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. True enough, that unity does not exist, and it will take a lot more than gestures to accomplish actual unity. But I don't that is what the Holy Father is meaning by these gestures. He is not denying the reality of the divisions that exist but emphasizing the truth of a deeper unity that does exist. When the Holy Father kisses the hand of a Holocaust survivor, he is kissing the hand of mystery.

I admit a bit of frustration with the ambiguity of some the Holy Fathers gestures and even words, but I also admit that I have been forced into rethinking and hopefully redoing some things. This is different from Pope Benedict whose words were so clear, and I thank God for that. But this is not an either/or situation. And is the most important word in Catholic theology, as Fr. Hardon said. So now let's do with Pope Francis the way we thought with Pope Benedict. And don't forget that the most amazing thing about Pope Benedict is something he did.

Monday, May 26, 2014

humility: a key to Pope Francis

I was talking with my sister last week about Pope Francis.  I had become agitated by some the spin put on his words and actions. (See my comment about reading too many Catholic blogs that analyze him to death!) She wisely made the suggestion that when Pope Francis, for example, lets Cardinal Kasper voice his musings about divorce and remarriage, it is actually another -- and much more significant -- example of his humility that we have seen when he paid his hotel bill, etc. He lets Cardinal Kasper speak to see what will happen. What will the Spirit do with these words? What is happening, it seems, is that Cardinal Kasper is not persuading many people. But not because the Pope closed him down: rather because his ideas although generous are not persuasive. This is wise and humble of the Holy Father. He is doing much the same thing in a different way in the Holy Land. He is letting his presence call attention to other people and things. He points away from himself. This is the way to lead.

Humility is also the key to Pope Benedict, who is even less understood than Pope Francis. Who has ever done such a thing as Pope Benedict is doing? No wonder the two of them get along so well. I pray that I can lead as they do in humility.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

a long day on the road

I received two phone calls yesterday morning that altered plans for the day.  One was pretty routine and easy to accommodate.  We stopped in Cullman, AL to celebrate Mass with the Totus Tuus teams of Nashville, Birmingham, and Knoxville. The monks had altered their schedule so Mass had been earlier than expected at the Abbey Church at St. Bernard's where the teams are training. We were planning to stop anyway, and I will be going back this afternoon.  Fr. David Carter of the Diocese of Knoxville will be serving as chaplain for the week, but I am going for part of the time just to help out a bit.

The other call was from my old friend, Michael Tinkler, aka: the Cranky Professor.  His father had died during the night.  So we made a detour to Chattanooga, after leaving Cullman, to see his mother and his sister; and we were there when he arrived home from upstate New York. Everything about the visit was blessed. Then it was time to hit the road to Nashville. Thanks to the kindness of Sr. Helen Marie, my sister's prudent companion on this trip, for her generosity in gong with us on the longer journey with a cheerful spirit. This trip to Chattanooga is hard for me to put into words at the moment. I am sure that I will reflect on it more. In any case, I ask your prayers for the repose the soul of John Tinkler and for the consolation of his family.

Friday, May 23, 2014

I read too many Catholic blogs...

I really need to do something about my reading of Catholic blogs.  I don't spend all that much time on the internet, and I read only a few and pretty mainstream Catholic blogs, but even so it can really get me down! All the fuss going on about divorce and remarriage, same sex marriage, etc, when the Church's teaching is so simple and clear.

I have boiled it down to this: sex is good between a man and a woman married for life and open to life.

That is simple and clear enough for anyone.  And hard enough.

Monday, May 19, 2014

a good Sunday

so many people whom I love and respect were deeply disturbed and hurt by the spectacle of a priest on local television denying a number of teachings of the Catholic faith -- and maybe even more dismayed that there was no rebuttal or correction from Church authorities

what I have decided to do is to be as good a Catholic as I can be. and yesterday was a good day to start

so I heard confessions, celebrated Mass and baptized a baby, had a meeting about developing the music at St. Mary's with a very dedicated volunteer, had lunch with two seminarians, visited a couple in the hospital just blessed with twins, visited another young lady in a rehab hospital -- please pray for her as she courageously struggles back from a debilitating disease that was misdiagnosed for crucial months -- attended a parish concert, had time for some quiet prayer time in the chapel of Frassati House, visited with and encouraged (and was encouraged by) a brother priest and then had dinner with him and another seminarian topped off by a walk, and did my laundry in the middle of all that

now it's time for a vacation with my sister

I can do all of these things.  I won't worry so much about what I can't do.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

a new beginning

Well here in the Nashville television market, we were treated with a well-edited summary of a long-long-time dissenter priest's complaints against the Church -- at 6 & 10! Surely this particular drama is coming the the end of its run.

As Providence arranged it, I happened to see this clip with a young man just about to enter seminary for our diocese in the fall.  At the end of the clip, he voiced wonder that anyone purporting to be Catholic could say these things, much less a priest.  His comment replaced my frustration with hope.

Better days are coming!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Nothing bad ever happens"

Ross Douthat of the New York Times has it right about the knot that "elite" universities have tied themselves into regarding sexual violence on campus.  Go read it here.  It's all about the money.

He cites an article by Megan McArdle, who makes a point almost verbatim to one that I have made about this topic: "On the one hand, colleges are supposed to treat their students as full-fledged adults who cannot be told where and when to drink, or with whom they can have sex … but we also want to say that colleges have the responsibility for ensuring that nothing bad ever happens."

The problem of sexual violence on campuses like Vanderbilt is terrible. But the Vanderbilts of this world don't have what it takes to provide a solution. The solution is virtue. UCat is getting ready to propose the virtues for love and responsibility in the fall. Watch out!

Monday, May 12, 2014

St. Mary's: a Pope Francis parish!

In case you don't recognize him from the back -- and maybe that's just the point -- this is a picture of Pope Francis celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. John Paul II.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Isn't this what you would expect from the devil?

Catholics are the ones with the problem in objecting to a black mass being offered at Harvard.  Yes, read it here. It's straight out of Screwtape.  And Harvard, for one, seem to be buying it. They have not stopped the black mass from happening so far.

Pray.  It's later than we think!

Friday, May 9, 2014

clericalism rears its ugly head

"heroism is not for the average Christian"

wow -- what ever happened to Vatican II and the universal call to holiness?

and who said this?  Cardinal Kasper, in explaining why those who are divorced and remarried should be readmitted to Holy Communion

It's a wrap!

The school year for University Catholic, that is.  We had our baccalaureate Mass yesterday and the family picnic following, a little time with Kathleen and Caroline literally with feet up, and it's done!   Thanks be to God for such wonderful blessings.

It feels good.  I don't ever remember having so definitive a feeling of being done.  I even remembered to say goodbyes yesterday at the picnic because I have learned how iffy it is to see people on graduation day itself. I don't know if I am going to graduation proper today at all or rather just sneak around to the after events for the different schools -- another lesson learned!

But, wow, do I need to get some work done about other things!  It's really bad -- almost out of control bad. So here goes.  Say a prayer for me in your charity.  Thanks.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

About Jesus Christ and the Church...

I love this quotation from St. Joan of Arc: "About Jesus Christ and the Church, I know that they are simply one thing and we shouldn't complicate the matter."  If I want to stay with Him, I stay with the Church. Period.

And I do want to stay with Him. Desperately! I don't want anything in this world as much as that.

I realize that other people do not feel this least not yet. I do not hold myself up as any sort of model of virtue. But I do aspire to loyalty to Him and His Church.  This is why I think that whatever the Church asks of me is fine. Celibacy -- OK!  And it even makes sense.

When we are proposing the Gospel, we need to be patient.  It is not going to be taken up all at once by everybody.  It takes time.  But put it out there!  I was talking to some priest friends last night and actually came on too strong, I'm afraid.  One of the priests was offering some feed back from a couple he is preparing for marriage who had attended the 3 To Get Married Retreat. Their comment is one that I have heard before: it would help if the NFP presenting couples did not have eight children. I did not take this well. For one thing, it's not true. But even if it were, what's the problem?  What's the problem with eight children?

To me, it's all about Jesus in the end. Whatever He wants is fine with me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Remember: It's Good News!

Let's be evangelical!

Fr. Check of Courage said when he was here that a large part of the problem the Church encounters in teaching about sex, marriage, family life, etc. is that the world does not see these teachings as Gospel, as Good News. Sometimes I wonder if we don't either.

Look at the way we propose the Church's teaching, even from the highest levels -- all the fussing about divorce and remarriage, for example. There are those who will admit the Church's teaching but do so glumly. That's really going to win them over!  Or there are those who champion the Church's teachings but do so with some sort of grim logic, as if that is going to persuade many people.  I really think that the best argument I can make for clerical celibacy, for example, is by the joy of my priesthood.

Young Catholics will come to sessions on Theology of the Body, but they won't date or give up pornography. Married Catholics won't sacrifice jobs or comforts for children and really making a home. Priests and religious are comfy bachelors and spinsters, rather than icons of Christ the Bridegroom and joyful Brides of Christ. And being single isn't the worst thing in the world, either. I am deeply thankful for the generosity of so many single people who have lived generously for others. We all have to put ourselves out there and do it!  Now I am really going out on a limb -- how about embracing continence for those in a union after divorce, if Holy Communion really means so much? Or staying in a difficult marriage? Or embracing celibacy in the face of same sex attraction? Isn't it better, even more joyful, to live the Gospel with sacrifice than to turn away from Jesus?  That's just the point. Communion with Him is worth everything, and sometimes that's what we have to pay.  And it only costs us, not the rest of the world.

Communion does close off our choices. Communion with Jesus is on His terms, which are remarkably generous!  He doesn't even care too much if we mess up.  Just get up and try again. Marriage, sex, and family life are the nitty-gritty of living communion with Jesus and with others in Him. Let's stop worrying about it and coming up with arguments and just do it!  It's supposed to be Good News, after all. What is the worst that could happen?  We could go to Heaven!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Anamnesis: the Art of Remembering

Well, it happened Saturday night. A gathering for artists to reflect on what they do. Believe it or not, I was the first speaker, by accident. I had a couple of hours to prepare, maybe. And a great tip of a poem to use: On a Replica of the Parthenon by Donald Davidson. Local setting and local author -- good start. Anamnesis is going to be a feature of the Art Crawl at St. Mary's each quarter.

Anyhow, I thought it was great! I learned something from myself. That happens with extroverts, who need to say things to make them real. All of a sudden, I realized what was art and what wasn't. I dare to say that most of the stuff displayed for the Art Crawl on 5th Ave and in the Arcade was not art. Proficient artifacts, perhaps, but not art. Art is an expression of culture, and culture (from some of my reading from my CL retreat) is a fusion of reason and faith or, to say it another way, of rationality and transcendence. Culture has to mean something and has to point beyond itself.

Most of what is called art today certainly does not fit this definition. In the first place, meaning is off the table because of relativism. There can be no meaning without truth. All the more so transcendence. There isn't really anything to transcend. Art and culture today are simply more products for consumption: products that come from the "creative industry." These products are really more technology than art. See the comparison in the poem between the original Parthenon and the replica in Nashville.

It was fun!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Divine Mercy, indeed!

What a day, and what an end to the semester in essence.  The day started with the Canonization party organized by the ever-resourceful Caroline Duffy.  There must have been 40 students there.  Can you believe that?  At 2:30 a.m. during exams?  And a wonderful breakfast to top it off.  I am very grateful to Caroline. She really gets the vision I mentioned in the post above: encounter, communion, culture, mission.  You know that those young people will never forget the night they stayed up all night to see the canonization of St. John Paul II. Never. That was an encounter in itself that fostered communion, culture, and mission.  Some of those same students went to the Fathers of Mercy later in the day and then were at Mass tonight as well.

Today was the last Sunday night Mass of the semester.  I think we went out on a bang.  Again, encounter with Jesus which resulted in communion, culture, and mission.  We sent them off with as much sacramental and spiritual help as we could!  And beautiful music and liturgy, if I do say so myself.  Why not the best?

OK -- time for bed!

Oh yeah, and we took care of all the baptismal water at St. Mary's today with the assistance of our fun seminarians.  Life is good.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Best Retreat, Ever

Well, in the sense that my young charges at UCat use "ever."  But pretty close to the literal meaning. I have come back from this retreat not especially "fired up" but rather cleared up in my heart and mind.  I know what I am supposed to do, and more importantly I know who I am and whose I am. As a Christian, I have the identity of a son. This is first. As a priest, I also have the identity and the mission of a father. I am a son in communion with others, and as a father I foster communion for others.  A father molds the identity of a community not only by serving it, which is absolutely necessary if he is to have genuine authority, but also by forming its culture: the father determines who we are and the way we do things. This retreat has taught me as a father to look at the circumstances of my assignments with the gaze of Christ.

It is funny how good a retreat this was considering how bad I was on the retreat!  I played hooky at times and slept a lot.  I was not "part of the program."  But it worked. And I was in Texas!  Ah, Texas. Here is some of what I did: I made a visit to the parish of Our Lady of Walsingham. This was a very tender visit.  I was welcomed by a lovely lady who is the parish secretary.  She gave me the grand tour. I don't know if she sensed that I was being overwhelmed by emotion when we ended up in the church, but she left me there to pray on my own.  I wept so hard that I shook.  For those of you who know me well, you will understand why.  It is too hard to explain otherwise.  The church brought to light too much of my past, especially people who are no longer with us in this world: of course, my parents but others as well.  Then I was able to slip into the small chapel where Adoration was going on and pray my rosary.

I went to College Station on another day.  Don't worry: these side trips actually fit into the retreat schedule and did indeed turn out to be pilgrimages with a spiritual purpose.  For some reason, I knew that I had to go to College Station, and it was good that I went.  If you are regular readers, you know my admiration for St. Mary's Catholic Center at Texas A&M.  I am not only impressed by the outstanding campus ministry that goes on there, but I am deeply grateful for the generous help I received when I was just starting out in campus ministry and didn't know what I was doing.  Once again, I was blown away by the vast scale of things there, exponentially larger than when I was there before.  They are going and growing, for sure.

Happily I was able to enjoy these visits with a great deal of detachment.  What I mean is that I admire these places, but I do not want to be what they are.  I want to be what God wants me and my assignments to be.  The one thing that I do want to imitate from these places is their confidence in their missions.  They are distinctly and confidently who they are supposed to be.  It helps being Texan to pull this off! But even more, it is evident that both Our Lady of Walsingham and St. Mary's at College Station are communities with fathers.  Each has a clear identity and culture. They therefore have joy and love!  There is a communion there.  From the joy of communion springs the fruitfulness of mission!  These are missionary communities.  They have an identity to offer.  They embody in a real way the event and experience of Jesus Christ.  Isn't that exactly what I experienced at both places?

I also had fun with some old friends and stayed overnight at St. Mary's Seminary in Houston.  All in all a great week.

So here are my resolutions: live my sonship concretely, especially in relation to the Bishop.  I am going to stay more focused on exactly what he has assigned to me.  This leads directly into my fatherhood of UCat and St. Mary's of the Seven Sorrows.  Each needs to be a place of encounter with the event of Jesus Christ that forms a communion with a distinctive culture and mission.  That's the order: encounter, communion, culture, mission -- all in Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 21, 2014

More of the same

Anniversaries lately: newly ordained Deacon Ben Butler reminded me of my diaconate ordination anniversary on the 18th.  Yesterday was Sr. Margaret Andrew's birthday.  Today is my baptismal day!

Speaking of baptism, there is still a lot of water at St. Mary's.  Come by and get as much as you can use! We had two infant baptisms yesterday in the same water.  It is getting stronger and stronger! (We have a supply at Frassati House too.)

Today, I leave for my retreat.  Please pray for me.  You won't be hearing from me until I get back, and then it is almost time for the canonization of John Paul II.  Frassati House is hosting a canonization party beginning at 2:30 A.M. next Sunday morning.  Breakfast will be served!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Odds and Ends

All the baptismal holy water is from a baptism by total immersion, requested in sensitivity to the practice of the ecclesial communion of the catechumen's family. (This is actually the second time for me for this for the same reason!)  I could never have pulled it off without the joyful help of some of our seminarians!  That actually goes for all of Holy Week!

I am leaving tomorrow for a retreat, postponed from the time of my father's death.  It is very needed, believe me, and I ask for your prayers.  I hope that I can come back able to serve better.  You see, I am just way too cranky these days.  As much as I show it, it is worse on the inside.  I hope to hear the Gospel again as good news for me and then be able to share it in joy.  Surely this desire is not unrealistic or too much to ask.  In any case, I ask for your prayers.

Update -- Looks like Pope Francis is leading the way for my retreat.  I just saw his homily from last night.  I need to find my Galilee on this retreat.

Christ is Risen!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Something strange is happening!

Happy Holy Saturday.  What an awesome day:

From an ancient homily on Holy Saturday 
(PG 43, 439, 451, 462-463)

The Lord descends into hell

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Lots to get ready for today.  I mainly take the Triduum as it comes.

We have several wonderful UCat catechumens and candidates being received into the Church by the Bishop tonight at the Cathedral.  But we have one baptism at St. Mary's, and it's a special one.  All I will say is to bring big containers to take home baptismal holy water.  There's going to be A LOT of it!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pope Francis to the rescue!

Pope Francis also spoke about the importance of defending children's right "to grow in a family with a mother and father able to create a healthy environment for their growth and affective maturity," which includes "maturing in relationship to the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother."

I could not help thinking of Sr. Jane Dominic's talk that caused so much furor when I came across this quotation in this talk given by the Holy Father.

It seems like they are on the same page in their sociology!

Ready for the Triduum

I think that UCat is especially ready for the Triduum, the observance of the Paschal Mystery, after the 72 straight hours of Adoration that ended last night.  The final Holy Hour was overflowing into the hallway.  In all honesty, this has to be one of the high points of my priesthood because it had so little to do with me.  The students and Jesus pretty much did it all!

Of course, there was the weekly 24 hour Adoration at St. Mary's this week as well.  And that is put together by some of the young adults in the city.

Happy Holy Thursday!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nunc dimittis

Wow!  If the Lord called me now, I would die a happy man.  This morning from 6 to 7 AM, the Frassati House chapel was full of freshmen making a Holy Hour and singing!  Just wanted you to know.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Week 2014

The best thing happening at UCat right now is this!  Since Sunday night after Mass until Wednesday night after Praise and Worship -- 3 full days! -- there is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament going on in the Frassati House chapel.  All of this has been organized by the students.  This picture was at about 6 a.m. this morning when I had finished the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer with Jeff Swaney (whose head is in the picture) -- chanted, of course!

I am going to begin this Holy Week a series of pictures from around Vanderbilt.  Yes, there are some good and pious things in these parts!  Sometimes surprisingly so.  Anyhow, I am going to try to comment on the good a lot more.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Got to get that picture down the page!

I am posting again because I hate that picture in the last post.

A couple of further thoughts.  If we do surrender in the culture wars because we have simply been engulfed and overrun, then we are left with the role that Pope Francis spoke of: the field hospital to the culture.  That is what so many things that I really admire in the Church are doing: Courage and Rachel's Vineyard, for example.  They come in mainly after the damage has been done and try to help people put themselves back together -- this time with grace.  If that is not the Gospel, I don't know what is.  We can also create communities that are safe havens in the cultural wasteland.  This is my goal both for UCat and for St.Mary's. This formation of Christian communion is sometimes called the Benedict Option, referring to what St. Benedict did in his time.  These approaches are beautiful, but they presume tremendous loss:  So many lives left to the depravity of the predominant culture.  This, however, seems to be the way of the Lord Jesus.  He did not establish a mass movement.  He did not take on the world, the flesh, and the devil on their own terms but on His.  There was a huge price to pay, and He paid it. And He won.  We will win too when we follow His way: the way of meekness and sacrificial love.  So let us ask how we can serve and save the culture rather than how we can control it.  That is the way to persuade by ethos.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Different Mode of Persuasion

Here is the cover story of the Vanderbilt Hustler for this week:

Breaking the Bathroom Binary

Go read it if you dare.

Where do you even start to deal with something like this?  I mean if I tried to answer all the nonsense and worse at Vanderbilt my life would end up like this:

There has got to be another way to convey goodness, truth, and beauty rather than having to argue with every crazy idea that comes down the road.  It makes you cranky! 

Ethos.  Live goodness, truth, and beauty.  Enjoy goodness, truth, and beauty.  Glorify goodness, truth, and beauty.  Show goodness, truth, and beauty.  And then they seem desirable.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is supposed to be Good News, after all.

I think that I am willing to wave the white flag and surrender the culture wars.  We're getting whipped anyhow.  I would much rather be enjoying the culture of goodness, truth, and beauty.  Let them envy me, if they like. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Rich Gift of Love

Thanks to the Newman Connection you can still see Sr. Jane Dominic in action here.  The great folks at the Newman Connection produced high quality videos of a whole series of Sr. Jane Dominic's talks on the Theology of the Body available free online.  The series is called: Rich Gift of Love.  (The talk entitled Masculinity & Femininity: Difference and Gift is the one that sparked the controversy in Charlotte.  Go judge for yourself!) They are also available on DVD.  Be sure to thank the Newman Connection and to put any college students you know in touch with them.

I am very grateful to the Newman Connection personally and want to support them in any way that I can!  You might notice a familiar face or two here.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


I cannot speak to the facts about Sr. Jane Dominic's talk at Charlotte Catholic High School and the aftermath.  Essential elements of the facts are not in public view.  I can talk about the perception that has been left now that Sister's voice is silent.

The message has been sent that one must not stand up for the Church's teaching about same sex attraction because if you get into any trouble you will not be supported.  A clarification was probably in order from Sister, the school, the Diocese of Charlotte, and/or Aquinas College.  I think that this is the case simply because there was such confusion -- such perceptions of all kinds of things.  This is not what happened, and what did happen leaves the impression that Sister was wrong, not about some aspects of prudential judgment or about supporting materials, but about the substance of her presentation.  That's the perception, and in our culture perception is reality.

This is an unfortunate impression to leave, not only in this particular case but also because of the effect it will have on others who, like Sister, are trying to engage our lost culture with the Gospel of Life.  It will have a "chilling effect" on those efforts.  We must pray for Sr. Jane Dominic and for those who are engaged in similar apostolic work.  The enemies of the Gospel of Life will be emboldened by what has happened in this case.  Those who propose the Gospel of Life will need more fortitude knowing that they will not be supported, even by those of their religious family.

That's the perception.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bullying Sr. Jane Dominic

I have a soft spot for Catholics held up to media scrutiny simply for being Catholic.  I know.  I've been there.  So naturally, I am sympathetic to Sr. Jane Dominic, O.P., whose talk at Charlotte Catholic High School has erupted into a media frenzy.  What did Sr. Jane Dominic do?  She presented the Church's teaching on same sex attraction and provided some arguments to explain it.  I have no doubts about the authenticity of Sister's presentation of the Church's teaching.  There would be no way to argue with that.  Her explanatory material is not infallible, and I don't know what it was.  But I am sure it was generally on target, even if some of it might be debatable.

The ruckus that ensued included the routine charges of bullying.  Indeed, there is bullying going on: bullying of Sr. Jane Dominic and anyone else who dares to demure from the secular orthodoxy that same sex attraction is inborn and has no developmental factors.  This orthodoxy is not proven by research.  It is accepted and enforced blindly by the predominant culture and their media henchmen.  They are going after Sr. Jane Dominic.

So, in your charity, please pray for Sister.  I can tell you that she is in a painful position.  I will be offering Mass for Sister's intentions at St. Mary's at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.  You are welcome to come!

All that being said, let me offer some advice to anyone speaking on this topic as a Catholic.  First, you cannot assume that anyone is "with" you on this topic -- not even a Catholic audience.  (Perhaps Sister assumed too much of her audience.)  You also cannot be too careful about what you say -- or really better -- you cannot be too loving in what you say.  It is true that in the past we too often relied on cultural taboos rather than Gospel charity to carry the argument on same sex attraction.  We did not stand up enough for those who were bullied (or worse) because of their same sex attraction.  We need to show the tenderness and understanding that we always should have shown.  For those with this condition, living the Church's teaching on same sex attraction is not easy, and it is not really comparable to any other situation.   It is indeed a difficult balance to speak the truth in love!

Sunday, March 16, 2014



What do I mean by this? It is not good for man to be alone. I've heard that somewhere.

Of course, we are in no danger of monastic solitude breaking out all over the place. (Anyhow, the point of monastic solitude is to be WITH God.) But people are everywhere alone, even in "relationships" or in big groups. I think that I spend most of my life providing some sort of possibility for people to be with. I think that with is what works about Awakening, about a mission trip, about a study group or Bible study, about daily Mass. It is what is supposed to work about Sunday Mass -- and does on Sunday nights at Benton and on Sunday mornings at St. Mary's. The same people go to Mass at Cathedral or other places and don't stick around.

But generally, we don't get it. We like the withness, but we are not willing to sacrifice convenience or preference for it. With works for a time, but then the dominant culture of isolation kicks back in. We wonder why we cannot find with when we need or want it.

What a mystery there is to be with another. I was having a conversation with one of the students as we bounced over the Honduran roads to go the airport to return home about the difference between those who launch out to push boundaries and those who tend the home fires. I was trying not to pontificate too much, but I did point out that some point boundary pushing comes to an end, and then there you are tending home fires. At some point, we need to go deep and to put down roots. It is good to do this with.

I am coming up on twenty years as a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. Sometimes I feel a strain with my current assignments. Too much of good things, I would call it. And disparate things. Both assignments are really amazing and challenging. But somehow I doubt that this combination of assignments will ever come up again! I think it was sort of an accident that they came together. I have decided to accept the strain and to do the best I can. To me, it is apart of being here with. Being with the Bishop. Being with God. Being with the People of God. I can imagine assignments that would be more convenient or that I might prefer. But that is just the problem. Then it would be about me with-out regard to all those mysterious others.

This is why I love with so much.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A pretty rough week

I'll admit that this was not a very good week for me. On many levels, I did not get done what I needed to do.

I have some good excuses: just getting back from Honduras and going through my first colonoscopy -- TMI, I know! But there was still time and energy enough to have done better.

I realize that I have been hiding from many things but especially from my grief. Just after my father's death, I posted that I was not letting myself fall down into the dark holes of memory that would open up before me. At the time, that might have made sense -- might have. But not any longer. It is keeping me in avoidance not only of my grief but of my responsibilities.

I realized that this avoidance of my grief was also causing me to avoid God. This week, at a lecture on Flannery O'Connor, the speaker shared O'Connor's insight that the way we treat our parents is the way that we treat God. That thought is surely not original to her, but it broke through on me. I need to deal with my father (and, I think, my mother, even though her death was almost 20 years ago) directly. And then I think I can deal with God and my work more directly as well. I won't be so bound up by avoidance.

I realize that this is going to hurt. I will need to cry it off, and let off whatever other emotions are bottled up. I pray that I can do so in a way that is not damaging to others.

Thanks to my friend Bill Bellet for being there just in the nick of time once again.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Back from Honduras

That's about all I am going to say now. It is too hard to unpack it all just yet -- maybe for a while.

One thing that I will say is that I was traveling with the kindest and most patient group of students, ever.

Glad to be home!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, February 24, 2014

Good News

When Fr. Paul Check of Courage was here, he said something that struck me.  He said that the Church gets so much "push back" about sexual morality because people generally do not perceive chastity as good news.  They don't see it as part of the Gospel.  Justice, yes.  Charity, yes.  Perhaps even temperance.  But chastity, no.  Not good news.  A burden.  An obstacle.  I think that he is right.

(I think that Cardinal Kaspar is on to much the same thing about the family.  He told the other cardinals that the Church needs to proclaim the gospel of the family.)

Actually chastity is very good news and indeed part of the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, like the rest of the virtues, commandments, beatitude, etc.  But it is not perceived that way.  It seems to me that all the conditions for turning to chastity as good news exist in our culture.  The devastation resulting from our cultural deviations from chastity is widespread misery, just the sort of condition for receptivity to good news.  In order to accept good news, you generally have to understand the bad news.  I guess that we don't understand where the misery is coming from and what would help it.

I am no social scientist but here is some of the misery as I see it:
physical -- all kinds of sexually transmitted diseases, abortion
cultural -- fatherlessness and the resulting social pathologies, pornography, sex trade                emotional and psychological -- repetitive, meaningless hook ups, sexual addictions 
personal -- no non-sexual way to date

And that's just what I can come up with at 5:50 a.m.!

All that is pretty miserable.  Yet, we keep going back to the same stagnant wells whereas the living water of chastity is perceived as poison!

I think that we indeed need evangelization, literally: the proclamation of good news.  I am not sure how that will work in this area.  Fr. Check showed a documentary that Courage has produced.  It is very good.  It simply has three members of Courage tell their stories.  They are stories of discovering chastity as good news in particular situations.  They are long, hard stories.  They are stories of the Gospel.  But I fear that they will generally not be heard.

The answer, as always, is perseverance and prayer.  I think that's in the Gospel too!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Something new

I mentioned that Fr. Paul Check of Courage was here last week.  He gave a presentation to the diocesean priests' council with the bishop attending.  He also gave a presentation on campus. 

Fr. Check is impressive and refreshing.  He is doing triage in the Church's cultural field hospital, to use Pope Francis' analogy.  He is a trained moral theologian so he knows his stuff, but what he does in Courage is not theoretical.  He reminds me of a faculty member in the medical school who is an expert in critical medicine, but he does not conduct a class when making rounds.  He tend to the person.

Fr. Check's approach was greeting warmly by the priests.  They said, "we need this."  These are men in the trenches.  They recognized the validity of his approach.  I think that we are now on the way to having Courage in the diocese.

The students, on the other hand, were mainly perplexed by Fr. Check's approach and his presentation.  It was not what they had expected.  It was not apologetic.  It did not give them arguments to make in their discussions with their peers.  He challenged them to listen and to accompany their gay friends.  He challenged them to be authentic to who they are and to what they believe about the human person. 

One of the students who went on the March for Life trip commented on the emphasis at the March events on responding to the human needs surrounding the issue of abortion.  It was the thrust of Cardinal O'Malley's homily, for example.  He found this approach appealing.  I think that this is what Fr. Check is doing about homosexuality.  We need to know human anthropology to be grounded in the truth about same-sex attraction, just like we need to know biology to be grounded in the truth about abortion.  And then we need to act in love and understanding toward the person.  We don't need to argue, at least not at first.  You don't argue in the emergency room.

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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