Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last and first day of the year indulgences

Today, pray the Te Deum for a plenary indulgence.

And tomorrow, the Veni Creator.

The Te Deum is a great prayer of thanksgiving, and the Veni Creator a prayer to the Holy Spirit. Makes sense!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Manger references

Yesterday in my Christmas homily, I mentioned a number of references to the manger from various sources. In case anyone is interested, here they are:

The Christmas card. But please look at the sisters' other cards. They are some of the most beautiful I know. This one is really an exception to their style!

The reliquary of the manger at St. Mary Major.

Straw in the manger devotion.

The manger, Christ their equal made;
That upper room, their souls' repast;
The cross, their ransom dearly paid,
And heaven, their high reward at last.

Away in a Manger.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

What a Wonderful Advent

I am so grateful for Advent this year. It has been a time of grace, in the most literal sense of the word: gift. God has done wonderful things in my life this Advent. All kinds of things, and I am so grateful. I have not been on an emotional high. If anything, it has been pretty dark emotionally. But quieter. Everything getting quieter -- inside.

Yesterday morning, I took some time early in the day to go for a walk in the woods at Beaman Park. Nobody was there. It was damp and grey. And quiet. It was just what I needed. It was also a good image of the quietness of my soul, which is usually anything but quiet.

I don't really understand what is going on, but I am so grateful.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Downtown is so wierd

Yesterday afternoon, I had the help of some parishioners getting St. Mary's ready for Christmas. Truthfully, I was helping them. This included decorating the front gates of the Church. As one of the young men helping noted afterward, just about every condition of man walks by the front of that church. Downtown Nashville is such a contradiction. There is no there there. It is not a real place at all. People work there and go away. People entertain themselves there and go away. Even the few people who live there have to go away to get any of the normal necessities of living. In the case of St. Mary's, people go to church there and go away. People with no where to work or live hang around there. There is lots of coming and going, much of it right in front of St. Mary's.

Right now, I am upset with myself for getting upset with a man asking for help after being asked so many times by so many others. I could and should have been more patient with him. We try to help many in little ways, and we are always on the lookout for ways we can connect to make a bigger difference in the rare case when that is possible. Fr. Fye is working on one case like this now.

I am glad that we are there. We add something. I am especially excited about our mission to offer confession. This anonymous downtown setting is a big advantage for confession. I have an interesting feeling about this Christmas at St. Mary's.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pray -- and thank God -- for Bishop Choby

It was announced last night at the Serra Club's Vocations In Progress (VIP) Mass and dinner that Bishop Choby is in the hospital. It is not a critical situation thankfully, and he will be undergoing tests today so keep him in your prayers.That is about the only thing that could have kept him away from this event, in particular. The robust vocation situation in the Diocese of Nashville is the crowning glory of Bishop Choby's episcopacy. It is due entirely to his fatherly concern to provide for his flock in the most important way by ensuring the sacramental and pastoral life of the parishes and to care for and support his seminarians.

Even those of us who know and love Bishop Choby well can be frustrated at times by his organizational and administrative challenges -- even someone like me who is challenged in the same ways. Yet, we know that we are blessed with a father-in-God. Fathers can be plenty frustrating, especially when they are vulnerable enough to share their struggles with us, but a father filled with sacrificial love for his family is more precious than any administrative genius. That is what we have in Bishop Choby.

Bishop Choby will not stop. He will not stop loving us, even when he has double booked himself or let his voice mailbox fill up. He pushes on, just as he pushes his walker, even when it costs him so much to do so. And the seminarians keep coming. I wonder why? Perhaps they are inspired by his love of God, of His people, and of them. Maybe they see the model of a pastor's life that is worth living and dying for.

There was something that stood out to me last night at the Serra Dinner. Bishop Choby has joked with the vocation directors of the Nashville Dominicans over the years about a contest of numbers of vocations. Of course, just about always in just about every category, the sisters win. But Bishop Choby is the hands-down winner in one way: native vocations. As the sisters were introduced, the national and even international scope of the vocations was impressive. But there was not one sister introduced from Tennessee. Even though fewer in number, the seminarians were largely identified geographically by parish. Even a couple of out-lying East Tennesseans had gone to college and encountered the Catholic faith and their vocations here. By his fruits shall you know him.

Pray for Bishop Choby to have a blessed and healthy Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Jubilee underway

What a fun day at St. Mary's yesterday! It was our first day of Jubilee-inspired "extended hours," and it was a success! The Holy Door was open all day, and there were people buzzing around all day. One last family came in to go through the Holy Door after the evening Mass from Lawrenceburg on their way to the Nutcracker at TPAC. I also had a lot more confessions than usual on a Saturday, but that might be because of the proximity to Christmas. It's a win, in any case!


Friday, December 18, 2015

Nuns in East Tennessee

Yes, there are cloistered nuns in Tennessee, and like so many other dynamic Catholic things in Tennessee, they can be found in the youngest and smallest of our dioceses: the Diocese of Knoxville. They are the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. You have heard of the pink sisters, perhaps? Well, these could be called the burgundy sisters because of their deep red habits.

I am also very grateful for their charism: to pray for priests. Here is their link:  That's really making it clear! I visited the community once and celebrated Mass with them. They have moved since then, and I have not been to their new monastery.

They have a graphic on their site that really moved me. I have asked in your charity to pray for priests, not so much for what we do for you but for what we carry of our own. That is where we are at our most vulnerable. As I get a little wiser with years, I realize how fundamental is human formation in Christian discipleship. It has come to the forefront of what I try to do with the students in UCat. I am convinced it is the most basic need in seminary formation. It frankly is what was most lacking in my formation and in priestly formation generally in my era in the seminary. It still could use work, I believe. You can tell by the sort of problems that priests have, not only the flashy, obvious ones but things like being cranky or lazy that really do the most damage day-in and day-out. Here is the graphic:

I thank God for the Handmaids of the Precious Blood: for their witness to comtemplative life in my beloved state and for their prayers for priests. We priests rely on their prayers and yours far more than you may think.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Deep Advent

Today, we enter into what I call "deep Advent," the last full week of preparation. The most notable thing about deep Advent is the antiphon at vespers each day which begins with "O" followed by a title of Jesus from the prophecies. They are called the O Antiphons, appropriately enough!

Today we begin with O Sapientia -- O Wisdom. Jesus is identified as our way to the transcendent wisdom of God in person.

Here is a link, that includes the antiphon chanted.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pray the black, do the red

A tip of the biretta once again to Msgr. Pope for this one. He offers a seemingly small but important clarification, gathered in his turn from Pope Benedict. In celebrating Mass, the priest needs not merely to say the black, that is, to say the prayers of the Church as they are given to us, but far more importantly, to pray those prayers as he says them.

One of the most dangerous liturgical errors is for a priest to give the impression of going through a formula. I won't even mention the possibility that he might actually be going through a formula. There is always balance in the Church. The priest is not to call attention to himself by personalizing everything or to ad lib the Mass, but he must pray it and not just say it. It is a prayer, after all! Actually this goes for the ritual actions of the Mass: the red. They are not stage directions. They are fundamentally prayers too. I will go one step beyond Msgr. Pope. Maybe the saying should be: pray the black, pray the red.

If priest and people are praying in common, then the focus stays where it should: on God.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Careful what you say...


It's the Jubilee!

The idea of the Jubilee from Leviticus is not merely clearing the tables and starting again. The Jubilee actually puts one back where one started. It is a pretty radical idea. God does not seem to have sufficient trust in the "invisible hand" of the market. He seems to be violating private property. But, hey, it's all His property, isn't it, to do with as He wishes? Or are we envious because He is generous? Seems like I have heard that question somewhere...

Let's enjoy the Jubilee like those who were in the bondage of slavery...because we are in slavery to sin!

Here is info about the Jubilee in L.A. -- Lower Alabama, that is ;-)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Incarnation or alienation?

It is so odd to spend any time on the Vanderbilt campus this time of year. It is like being in Whoville after the Grinch has struck. There are no signs of any sort of decoration -- except for the menorah in front of Kirkland Hall, for the first time ever. Good for the Jews! I should be happy about this restraint, since I am always urging people to keep Advent in a somber way. But this is not Advent. There is no celebration to come; there is no Christmas; there is no preparation: and there is no fulfillment. This gloom is indeed the envy of the Grinch, not the austerity of John the Baptist. Odd to say, there are decorations on the Medical Center side of campus. I guess because real people, looking for real hope come over there.

The reason for festivity and decoration at this time of the year is Christmas. We throw other things into the mix to broaden the base a bit, but except for Christmas this time of year would not be a big deal. One Vanderbilt administrator invited students to come celebrate the "wonder of winter." Winter is not wonderful here. It's just wet. Like it or not, these festivities are about Christmas.

I do not think that I have ever encountered opposition to observance of Christmas from a Jew or Muslim -- only from secular people. And all they have to offer in return is alienation: the idea that things only mean what we want them to mean. Christmas is just the opposite of alienation. God becomes one of us and comes to live with us. There is fulfillment. Things do make sense.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The birth of God is coming

God was born of the Virgin Mary.

She was conceived without sin for this purpose.

The dragon/serpent seeks to destroy her and her offspring.

Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, was victorious by dying on the cross and rising again.

Meekness and gentleness crush the head of the serpent.

Jesus will come again.

His kingdom will raise up the poor and lowly.

Shout this from the housetops!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

St. Nick's Day!

St. Nicholas is a great figure for Advent. His reputation as a gift-giver is rooted in his commitment to justice, fighting what today we would call human trafficking. He was also passionate about the truth, giving Arius a good punch in the nose for heresy.

Truth and justice prepare the way of the Lord a lot more than lights and shopping.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Being a missionary

On the feast of St. Francis Xavier, it seems appropriate to listen to the Holy Father's call to the missions. He made this appeal while he was in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. I remember one of my best friends from high school visiting Bangui while on a crazy trip in Africa way back in our college days. His descriptions of the poverty there still haunt my imagination.

From the Office of Readings for today, St. Francis Xavier puts it more bluntly in his characteristic way:

"Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: 'What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!'"

St. Mary's and the Jubilee of Mercy

It is official. We will have an official Holy Door at St. Mary's for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, beginning on December 13 -- Gaudete Sunday. That is something to rejoice about! Bishop Choby will come to the 9 a.m. Mass to open the Holy Door.

I have been prompted by this development to increase our times for confessions and to regularize the times that we keep the church open. The church will be open mainly on the weekends, since that is when there is parking available, and at midday during the week. Maybe we will be able to do more. Confession times will simply extend the times that we already have. Thanks to Fr. Fye for being so willing to extend these hours. I could not do it without him.

I will post the exact schedule as soon as we get logistics worked out a little more.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The best idea ever, continued

I wrote to some of my brother priests about the mobile confessional idea from this post. A few were enthusiastic about the idea of going in search of sinners. One of them found this used ambulance available on ebay. The last sale ran out without a bid meeting the reserve. The high bid that time was $5,100. It is back on auction again. I wonder how much it would take to get it?

It is a lovely story

Yesterday, the Prophet Isaiah presented us with the peaceable kingdom and today with the messianic banquet. Too good to be true? Or just good enough to be true? The childlike keep alive belief in the way things are supposed to be, while the wise of this world compromise with the reign of evil as it is.

Who is more realistic?

What happens when one encounters the Lord Jesus? The blind see, the mute speak, the lame walk, the hungry are fed. Peace, justice, righteousness, reconciliation, love. Yes, it is lovely. Just lovely enough to be true.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Planned Parenthood and violence

Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities are places of violence. Abortion is violent, whatever else may be said for or against it. In abortion, a pregnancy is cut short by violence. That is a fact. Just because what happens in an abortion facility is legal does not alter the coarsening affect of the violence that take place there. Abortion uses violence against the life of the child. It uses violence against the motherhood of the woman. It implicates doctors and nurses in violence against life. It offers violence against life as an answer and a solution. When will we learn that violence against life is not an answer? War, for example, is a moral catastrophe in part because there is so much uncontrollable collateral violence, even in a just cause. It is somehow not surprising that the systematic violence against human life and dignity that takes place at Planned Parenthood would be the locus of other acts of violence. Violence always begets violence.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


This year, I am feeling my old curmudgeonly self about Christmas hoop-la. As the season gets emptier of any real meaning, the more desperate we are to fill it up with junk.

I really want to keep a good Advent this year. I want to change. I want to prepare for judgment. And all that partying can get in the way. So this is what I will do. I will go to the parties that I have to, and I will try to be friendly. I will also try to be temperate, and I will try to go home as soon as I can!

I want to pray more and to get my spiritual plan of life back in better order. No more excuses of being busy or whatever! Want to join me?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

prayers for life at PP

Yesterday on my way to Bethany, the Dominican sisters' retreat house, I heard the news of shootings at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado. At this point, it is too early to know the motive, but I suspect the worst. Whatever the motives, let's pray for the victims, including a slain policeman, and for the shooter.

These violent and even deadly incidents happen from time to time and add to the fear that surrounds such places. More regularly are aggressive words heard at abortion facilities. I have heard them myself. Some of the courageous, and entirely peaceful, sidewalk counselors and witnesses have lamented to me about the counter-sign that the "screamers" provide to those who are entering the facilities or work there. Theirs are faces and words of anger.

What to do? To the extent that this is not already the case (and I think it is already the case), be careful of language. There is a progression in morality from thoughts to words to actions. If you do not want or intend violent action, be careful to avoid violent thoughts and words. Sometimes pro-lifers let rhetoric get away from our true moral intentions.

I think that we may also need to tone down even further our witness at abortion facilities. I do believe that pro-lifers should be there, offering help and prayer. But maybe many not many. Like God taught Gideon, He does not need many to accomplish His work. We might begin to think that it is our work. And maybe we need to leave all baggage behind: no signs, no "equipment" of any sort. That way we are even more vulnerable and in no way pose a threat. To a woman desperate to seek an abortion or to an employee whose conscience is awakening, the simple presence of an individual praying is enough. And maybe we should be there all or as much of the time as possible, like during 40 Days for Life. During the recent season of 40 Days. I passed Planned Parenthood and saw three people praying in the rain: Fr. John O'Neill, a mother, and her young daughter. What more could have been said or done?

Please do not think that I am blaming those who are trying to help. I know the evil of abortion and the evil that takes places in these facilities. We need to witness against it -- but by witnessing for the Gospel of life, using the methods of vulnerability: the methods of the cross.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

On the Other Hand

A friend just gave me copies of Robert Hugh Benson's apocalyptic novels. Yes, there are two. The more famous is The Lord of the World, which a very dark view of the future. The other is The Dawn of All, which is happier view of the end times!

Is there a happy view of the world right now? I say yes. There are so many happy things in my life: so many good people, so much good work, so many interesting needs. Of course, there is the mess that is going on in the world and inside me, but why should I give that priority? I should not ignore the terrible suffering going on in the world, especially the moral suffering that is so easily ignored of those hurt by the selfishness of others. But what can I do to help? I think that I can love. Happy, kind, thoughtful words and deeds do so much. Fidelity to duty, not in a slavish sense but in generous freedom, helps everyone. Carrying on cheerfully in the mess of things gives hope. Truthfulness without bitterness, prayerfulness above all, humor about myself and the pomposities of the world, purity of word, deed, and intention: there is no law against these things. There is boredom and irritation, but these can be quickly turned to good by acceptance. There is failure, but it does not define me. There is downright injustice and evil that hurt so much, but they cannot touch the goods mentioned above. They remain. I choose the good.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Not Going There

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to notice how bad and crazy things are in the world, etc. But this one (me) does need to try to be a saint not to get sucked into the black hole of negativism as a response to the bad out there. I am trying very hard not to go there.

Last night at dinner with some of the priests, we got talking about the fact that Catholic Charities is largely a government contractor in our diocese. One of the more newly ordained priests was asking how to help a couple with serious housing needs. He had turned to Catholic Charities and was turned away. The older of us at the table gave a hoot at that bit of naivete. Instead we suggested turning to parish structures, like St. Vincent de Paul Societies (although there are few of them in Nashville), or even entirely secular agencies for real charitable help.

I could lament this situation, and if I were in the right position, possibly try to reform it. But as it stands, the best I can do is to help things like St. Vincent de Paul Societies get started and grow. I have found myself in this situation in other areas as well: pro-life, marriage prep, pregnancy help, same-sex attraction, even campus ministry at places other than Vanderbilt. And what I have decided to do is to try to start or support what needs to be there rather than to curse the darkness. It is hard going, and sometimes it fails. But when it works, then something beautiful has been done for God.

This is my approach more generally. I think that St. Mary's, for example, is a place where people can come simply to worship God with reverence and to be given at least some of what they need to sustain and grow a relationship with God. That is all I want to do at the parish. It seems to have some appeal.

I really do not need to diagnose what is wrong in the world. It is out there. What I need is to accept, to live, and to offer the Gospel.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Adventure of Life

You know, things are pretty bad in the world. I know that they always have been and always will be, at least since the Fall and until the Second Coming, but I do think the world is getting darker. Still, I have hope. My two assignments give me hope. They really are the field hospitals that Pope Francis talks about the Church being.  Let me give some concrete examples. I have observed a dating couple -- that's pretty remarkable in itself -- preparing to leave college and choosing jobs that keep them in the same place, not only with each other but with a pretty impressive support system. At a place like Vanderbilt, which is so much about jumping the next hoop to the next level, that's a remarkably faithful decision. At St. Mary's I see people choosing to belong to a pretty difficult parish logistically in order to participate in serious worship and formation. These decisions indicate an understanding that life is hard and that the Catholic Church taken on Her terms is a good and safe way through it. All I want to do is to be as faithful as I can be to the Church, which is to be faithful to Christ. The Church does not need help from me. I need help from Her. She offers it. It is there for the taking at University Catholic and St. Mary's. This weekend, we had the re-boot of a mission for post-abortion healing and forgiveness under the direction of the Sisters of Life. We are working on a pregnancy help center for Nashville. I have chosen to throw our little efforts and resources into those "wards" of the field hospital that no one else will touch, like the things mentioned above. Sometimes it is heavy lifting, but either to let the world set the agenda or to become discouraged will not do! The Church is still young and beautiful, if we let Her be Herself. I love the Solemn Vespers that we had at St. Mary's on Sunday evening for Christ the King: singing the praises of God with the voice of the Church. She has a lovely voice.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Let's be grown ups

Although I work with college students, and it helps to have a sense of humor and fun with them, what they really want from me is a spiritual father. Tuesday evening, in place of our leadership board meeting (which begins at 8:30 p.m.), the students had arranged a surprise birthday party for me. It was indeed a surprise, mainly because my birthday is next Monday! It was a simple but very joyful affair, featuring pie not cake. As we were walking back to the rectory, Fr. Fye congratulated me on being a father to the students. It does feel that way, and it should. By the way, he is well on his way to such spiritual paternity. He gets it.

At St. Mary's, I have been trying to act as a father to a family with some growing pains. I have been trying gently to remind everyone one of the needs of the others in the parish. I think that it is starting to work. A secure father does much to produce a happy family.

When I look at myself this way, it makes me better and happier. It also holds me to a higher and more sacrificial standard. I think it responds to the needs of UCat and the parish better. It helps them to be places to come to -- to be at home with God.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Vocation of the laity, UCat style

OK, remember what I said about Vanderbilt and engaging the culture a few posts back? UCat students are doing it in brave. calm and charitable ways. There was a display organized by the newly energized Vanderbilt Students for Life on Monday to present the truth about Planned Parenthood. In response, other student organizations, including the Vanderbilt Feminists (just why do they exclude pro-life women?...), mounted a counter display in defense of Planned Parenthood and quickly were overwhelming the pro-life message. Go figure.

Somehow UCat students became aware of the situation and rallied round! The UCat president sent out a call on social media for anyone to stop by in support of life. Some engaged in informed and restrained dialogue. Others showed support by their presence. Despite some shouting and name calling from the other side, dialogue happened. In the state of campus life reported around the country these days, that's remarkable.

I am so proud of these students! This is just what they need to be doing: sanctifying the world! It is hard and scary and exactly right.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What to do?

In yesterday's post, among other things, I suggested that it might not be a good idea to send one's children to Vanderbilt, if you are interested in their acquiring virtue. I stand by that. I have said much the same thing about my own alma mater. I don't think that Sewanee is a good place for Catholics to go right now, and that is largely the Church's fault for not providing Mass on campus as it did for many years.

I don't offer such advice lightly. My default position is that we are to engage the world, and you can't really engage it if you are not in it. But can the world become too toxic for us to remain voluntarily? This is the whole "Benedict Option" question: should Christians withdraw from the world and circle the wagons? I am not a big fan of this option. But here is another idea. Why not withdraw from the power and comfort of the world and go to the lowest places instead? Sort of what Pope Francis is advocating in going to the peripheries. Generally speaking, you can be who you are on the margins. But not always. Go ask the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Any Vanderbilt parents reading?

Might want to see what your tuition money is providing for your children during "Sex Ed and Healthy Relationship Week"

See why UCat is so necessary? Maybe better not to send your children to Vanderbilt at all...just saying. Or at least to make a stink about stuff like this. I try to be patient and reserved about so much in my job, but I can't about this.

The truth about human sexuality is so beautiful and noble, as portrayed in St. John Paul's Theology of the Body, for example, that to see it twisted and trivialized like this upsets me so much. These young people are living in a toxic sexual environment, and this is what Vanderbilt gives them?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

media cultural bias, local edition

I confess to an obsession with Chattanooga. It's just my favorite place. And that is really totally subjective on my part. It is all about my going to McCallie. I have to say that most people think that Chattanooga is a great city now. But I liked it even back in the 80s.

Anyhow, this leads me to look at the Chattanooga newspaper online. Sort of a strange thing for someone who does not live there. I have come to notice how much better a newspaper Chattanooga has than Nashville. But that has always been the case. I noticed this by seeing all the bad news reported in the Chattanooga paper. Shootings and all sorts of mayhem, just about every day. Not so in the Tennessean. But if you watch the local Nashville television news at night, which I do from time to time with the other priests in the house, there is plenty of mayhem here. It just doesn't get into the paper. The Nashville paper could be produced by the Chamber of Commerce or something.

Another interesting bit of selective coverage I have noticed is that whereas terrible things happen at TSU, nothing bad ever happens at Vanderbilt. But I happen to get the police reports from Vanderbilt, and I know better. There are things like this at Vanderbilt. But they never make it out of the Vanderbubble.

While I am venting about media, I heard the NPR report about the Supreme Court agreeing to take the Little Sisters of the Poor case against the HHS mandate. But you would never have known it was that case because NPR never mentioned the Little Sisters of the Poor. Wonder why?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

looking for meaning

For the practical Catholic (I love that expression from the Knights of Columbus!), everything matters: love is in the details. Everybody from Josemaria Escriva to Helen Alvare says so. There is also a hierarchy to how much each thing matters. Thank you, St. Thomas. But it all matters. We don't have to go around giving significance to things. They are already significant.

To the relativist, nothing actually or really matters. Meaning is all just projected on to things. So for anything to have significance, we have to give it significance. Thus the exhaustion of modern life. I have to go around giving significance to everything: sort of like liking things on Facebook, etc. We have to make a hoop-la about every, little thing -- and a video -- or it doesn't matter. I learned this early on in campus ministry: unless there is a T shirt involved, it's not a legit activity.

For example, when marriage is no longer about the beginning of a life together and the prospect of children, then we have to give it some meaning. Hence, the wedding industry and bride-zillas. The pedal taverns that roll past Frassati House with whooping bridesmaids on bachelor-ette parties make me so sad. Is that all the meaning we can come up with?

We need to start acting like things matter in themselves. That is one reason serious liturgy is so important. Because it is serious. It matters. Period. The same is true, albeit to a lesser degree, for good manners, the way we dress -- all things great and small. It all matters.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

marriage prep and other things

Last night I had dinner with my associate. One thing we talked about was marriage prep with a couple who really have no connection to the parish or chaplaincy. They are getting married elsewhere but live here and were looking for someone to prepare them for the sacrament. Luckily, they found Fr. Fye. I would say that they are at quite a distance from the ideal that the Church would propose for an engaged couple, yet here they are anyhow. I remember a lesson from one of the holy and wise priests who taught me in seminary. Regarding pastoral practice, he cautioned against getting upset about the people who, for example, show up for Christmas and Easter and nothing else. Something, he said, got them to come through the doors. They didn't have to come at all. From 20+ years of experience of trying more or less to find the something in all kinds of situations, including marriage prep, I recommended much the same approach to Fr. Fye with this couple. And I also recommended not pulling any punches. Be honest with them. Be authentic as a Catholic priest in presenting the Catholic faith. But don't run them off. Practically speaking, this approach probably won't work, at least in the short run. That's my general experience. To some extent, it means bearing the burden for them. I have constructed marriage guidelines that do a lot of the dirty work for me. Those merely shopping for a "venue" can tell pretty easily that this is not the place for them. But for those who have some sort of desire for something of what the Church means by marriage, I give them a shot. And sometimes I end up shooting myself in the foot! But least I have tried. And who knows what might spring up in the years to come?

Sunday, November 1, 2015


I've been re-reading the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Right now, I'm in Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, and I am just about to begin the chapter on the universal call to holiness. I have been impressed by the emphasis on ordinary holiness in this document. This sort of holiness consists more in being kind to your parents or to your spouse than in founding a non-profit.

I preached at a wedding on Friday evening, and the Gospel was the same as for All Saints Day (today): the Beatitudes. One obvious conclusion to draw is that what is needed to be a good spouse is the same thing that is needed to be a saint. The Beatitudes are personal characteristics, not accomplishments. And what person do they describe? Jesus.

Being a good spouse and being a saint takes the same thing: love in the details. Everything matters. This is also true for being a good priest. This means that the little things will eat up time and energy that could be going to something big. That's the way that it is supposed to be. Actually, I think that the big things will sort themselves out if we are faithful in the little things -- mainly by the supposedly big things turning out not to be so big, after all.

It is hard to live this way, but it is the only way really to live. Everything else is an illusion. Holiness is always real.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

it's the people I really cherish

Because of the odd demographics of the priesthood in the Diocese of Nashville, I was a "young" priest for a long time. Until recently there have not been all that many priests who have been ordained after me. A number of those ordained after me have been older than I am, and I am sad to say that a number of those younger than me did not persevere in the priesthood. That left me looking relatively young, at least among priests around here.

Well, no more -- thanks be to God! I have vaulted from young priest to senior status pretty quickly, without passing through the middle stages. My very youthful associate helps to emphasize this transition! But it has also happened in my self understanding. I need to take more time precisely to help my associate with new things for him in the priesthood. I get calls for help from other young priests. I find them deferring to me in a way that I do not expect. This is as it should be, I guess.

But it makes me nervous because it means that I am supposed to be one of the grown ups! But where are the real grown ups? Well, they have gone on. This realization happens most forcefully about my father. He is not here any longer. I cannot turn to him. I have to decide things on my own.

This has made me more conservative but less rigid. I want to make sure that I pass on as much of the good that I received as possible. And that goodness has mainly to do with people, not with institutions, customs, or buildings. See, I told you I was getting old ;-)

Sunday, October 25, 2015


I was just looking at a trailer for the new and final season of Downton Abbey that a friend sent me in an email. I confess that I have watched maybe two episodes of the entire series, but I feel like I know it because so many people I know are huge fans. Sunday nights are work nights for me during the television season, which is also the school year. And I never think of watching things at other times than when they run for the first time. Old fashioned, I know. Even so, even a trailer can evoke a powerful emotional response in me for things coming to an end, in this case not only the show but also the epoch it portrays.

I remember as a little boy being around my maternal grandmother so much and thinking how much the world had changed in her life. She was born in the Purchase of Kentucky in 1901. It surprises me in hindsight that a child would think such things, but I used to think how unsettling all that change must be for her, and yet my grandmother was certainly not a curmudgeon. She was fun. Anyhow, I feel like I am experiencing the kind of dispossession from the world I live in that I thought about in her case. I have to guard against being a curmudgeon!

Except it seems to me that the changes are so much faster. I don't even have time to be nostalgic before everything has changed again. People these days glamorize as retro stuff that I still think of as modern -- like my old flip phone! In one way this is good. It makes me long for Heaven all the more. As I have said before, God's immutability is about my favorite of His perfections! All this change will come to an end in the One who is beyond all change.

But the rapidity of change also keeps me from feeling deeply connected, and I long for deep connection. Connection takes time, and we are not given any time any more for any thing.

I admit that it is good for me to have to keep moving. I would be even worse than Maggie Smith in Downton, if I could ever really settle down. Back in college, I had a friend tell me what a snob I was. It takes a friend...Ah, college, Sewanee, the way things were -- see what I mean ;-)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

let's give it a try! Catholicism, that is

That is my entire "agenda" at St. Mary's: taking a shot at providing what the Church asks for in a parish. It is basically the same at UCat. It works better than I can handle. I recommend it!

Set the bar where the Church does, which is actually pretty high. Put it out there: keep the doors open and the lights on. Warmly greet everyone who comes, entering into the mess of life. Provide what only the Church can, especially prayer and sacraments. Let the chips fall where they may. Repeat.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

a fine day...mighty fine

We have been having some of the finest days around here. October is the best month in Tennessee!

I have to admit to feeling very overwhelmed by things yesterday; but, despite my subjective feelings, it was such a fine day. As gloomy as I can be, there is always hope springing up -- or falling down, to be more seasonally appropriate ;-)

I am less and less inclined to look for, much less to create, the "perfect society." I will happily take the good life that Aristotle spoke of. And in truth, my life is SO good and yet far from perfect.

(I let myself be discouraged mainly by myself. From my point of view, I seem to be letting people down all the time. I have this standard of perfection for myself that is so prideful! I have to admit that others seem OK with me so why can't I be OK with me? The perfect me is the enemy of the good me.)

I was talking about the irrepressible goodness of things last night in our Faith Explained class. In contrast to total depravity that the Calvinists maintain, there is the optimistic truth of the Thomists based on the goodness that God put into everything He created: the goodness that is more resilient than sin. Makes sense!

Monday, October 19, 2015

My final words on the Synod

I mean it!

Let me say that I am very frustrated by this Synod: talk about "self-referential," as Pope Francis used to say! The main problem about marriage in our world is that people are not getting married, especially not in the Church. And the Synod seems to be ignoring this huge "elephant in the living room" completely! A lot of my ministry is taken up with marriage preparation and care for married couples. Take it from me as a pastor and chaplain, you practically have to do-it-yourself, at least in my experience. There are some good things out there, and there are some dioceses (Phoenix, New Orleans, etc.) that are putting together good programs. But it's spotty, and it's coming not from the top but bubbling up from below. There are universal norms, for example, about how to form seminarians: the Program for Priestly Formation (PPF) that has a lot to do with the improvement in seminaries. The Church could do this for marriage too. There are a lot of universals about marriage.

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is not seen as a part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: the good news of salvation. How can we better propose this "Great Mystery" within the Church and to the world? That is what the Synod should be working on.

OK -- I'm done.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Synod: Jesus?

The Pharisees approached and asked, "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?" They were testing him. He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?" They replied, "Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her." But Jesus told them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate." In the house, the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Super excited

Right now, I find myself super excited about things in the parish and at the chaplaincy; and at the same time I find myself encountering so much weight or drag holding back momentum. I guess that is to be expected: even down to little things like achy feet and a head cold! Offer it up, honey, in the wise words of Sr. Catherine di Ricci. The biggest drag is my own disorganization! And that is something that I have to fight.

I find beauty and peace in what is happening because I am not doing it. To a slight degree, I direct some things but mainly I am responding to what is happening. It is sort of "black market" religion in that it is not confined or led by the ordinary structures, although I am being better about running everything by the Bishop and chancery. No more "lone ranger" for me. Everybody is always asking me to quantify what is going on at St. Mary's or University Catholic, and that's one thing that is very hard to do, except to say that Mass is over-full on Sunday mornings or that there has been a "bounce" in numbers since Awakening. I am simply trying to "put it out there": teaching. preaching, sacraments, community, beauty -- whatever I can for whoever wants it. Most of it works, some doesn't. That's not my problem.

On the down side, there is just too much of it to manage in a timely manner, at least as far as I have figured out. I am working on it. I really can't believe the patience that people have with me. Just when I think we are getting a handle on things, something more pops up that cannot be refused. There are also very dark or heavy things that come along that seem to want to put a stop to it all. I think I know where this comes from: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The opposition, the "drag" as I call it, cannot be ignored, but it cannot take center stage. I need especially to be vigilant in the little things: love, or lack thereof, is in the details!

Please, Lord, let me be docile to you. Joyful and forgetful of self. Thank you for all that is going on. Please protect us from those forces bent on destroying the good that you have put into everything. Let me be a servant of that goodness and forget the rest. That's enough! Turn my heart to you always to accept your love and mercy so as to enjoy it and to share it. You are all I have. Let me never want anything else. Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

I will help you

This is what we need to say and then do.

I heard this at the first Rachel's Vineyard retreat that I attended. One of the women in giving her testimony was asked if anything could have reached her as she entered the abortion facility. She said that only thing that she could have heard then and wished she had heard was: "I will help you." That's it.

Can we do this? Can we offer to help?

Can we put aside every agenda we have in order simply to offer help? Can we make the other person our agenda? It makes us terribly vulnerable. What if I cannot meet the need? We don't have to. We have to try, and we have to care. And this is not just about abortion. Far from it. "Can I help you?" is a common expression, used even in commercial settings. It's what store clerks often say. But can't we break it out and really mean it? How often do we see distress in faces? Why not say, "I will help you"?

I have the advantage of hearing confessions, and so I hear a lot of things. Every priest does. And I can't really help in that setting in the practical sense of the word. And yet how often the penitent will say, "Father, you have helped me''? -- and that's before absolution, which is the real help. What have I done? I have listened, and I have responded in gentleness and truth. That's it.

I know what I am saying is true to some extent because it is what I want. For some strange reason, this week has been a very difficult week for me. What I have wanted more than anything is someone to care. Not to fix "it" -- I don't even know what "it" is. I received that gift yesterday, just briefly, as I was trying to give the same gift.

I have a wonderful parishioner who will take the time to listen and to care about some of the people who come by the church for help. Right on the spot, it's hard to make a good judgment, and she let's me refer people to her. Often she does not help in the way that they ask, but I am sure that there is no one who takes more time for them or gives them more real attention. That's true help.

I am kind of bored of policy and policies, of programs and campaigns. Let's just help.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fr. Michael Fye, STL

Just wanted to share the good news that Fr. Michael Fye passed his exams at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the alma mater of St. John Paul II), aka the Angelicum. He is now a master of moral theology. It's official: he is more of a theologian than I will ever be!

Now, Fr. Fye -- get home and get to work!

Back to communio(n)

Good timing on the part of the lectionary! Go see what the Church has in store for those of us of the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite this Sunday! And it's the opening day of the Synod. I hope that the Fathers are listening!

More pertinent to my world, this weekend is Nashville Awakening XVII! Although marriage is never a bad topic to preach to those rapidly approaching vocational decisions themselves, I think that I might go bigger at the closing Mass this weekend for Awakening: marriage as the ultimate natural form of communion that God has placed in His creation. Marriage is the communion that is an image of Himself as the Holy Trinity and the sign of the communion He desire with us. You see, one of the powerful affects of Awakening is an awakening to the communion of the Church, which sadly most young Catholics have never really experienced or only rarely. Their whole world is set up against communion, in favor of infinite variations of individualism. The contemporary debates on marriage and gender show have far this can go. Specifically this weekend the Lord tells us that we are not made for the alienation and individual expression of divorce but for the communion of marriage: marriage, which itself is the sacrament of the communion between Christ and His Church.

You go, Holy Mother Church!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I just have to...

because it's my school:

This silly video is about the rivalry between McCallie, my alma mater, and Baylor School, both in Chattanooga. The video was picked up by USA Today and some sports outlets so that is has gone mildly viral.

Ever wondered why this blog is so blue?

Roaming Catholics

At St. Mary's we have experienced a sudden influx of families from another parish. Of course, just about everyone at St. Mary's lives in another parish. The recent wave simply happened in a more concentrated way. We are a tiny parish geographically, with a small population of residents. I guess you could say that we are a "destination" parish, like it or not.

I realize that I have intentionally set out to make St. Mary's distinctive: you have read of my desire for St. Mary's to be a real Vatican II parish! Yet there are also too many parishes in the urban core of Nashville, in relation to the people that the diocese needs to serve. I can easily walk to more parishes from St. Mary's than there are in Rutherford, Montgomery, and Wilson Counties combined, with their already large and rapidly growing populations, not to mention sprawling geographic areas. I have perhaps done a disservice by trying to revive St. Mary's as a parish. Maybe it would be better for it to be a sort of shrine or chapel of ease, where Mass is offered and not much else. This was once the case for St. Mary's, many years ago. My other assignment, University Catholic, has such a limited mandate: as a chaplaincy to university students in Nashville, not as a (quasi)parish. But people come to St. Mary's, with children and all; and we are canonically a parish. What am I supposed to do? Tell them to go away? So we try to serve them as best we can.

The phenomenon of roaming Catholics is bigger than St. Mary's. It's really not the way things are supposed to be, but that's true of a lot of things in the Church these days. If someone higher up wants to take on the causes of the situation, I will cooperate. In the mean time, I will gladly try to serve the people who come in the door.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

We'll see...

Now that the Pope is back in Rome and I have been looking back on his visit to the United States, I would say that I am relieved and perplexed a bit. Relieved in that the Holy Father seemed to stay "on script" more during his visit here than he usually does. His press office doesn't seem to be explaining all kinds of things this time. Perplexed because he was so cautious about mentioning abortion, same-sex marriage, or really anything having to do with sexual morality, all of which I consider to be huge issues in our country. Those topics did come up but, shall we say, on the peripheries.

I have also been struck by comments from a number of more progressive people, either secular or within the Church, who have said that Pope Francis has made them reassess their views on a number of issues, even religion itself. Maybe the Holy Father is trying to influence those who agree with his positions on climate or immigration to reconsider their positions on marriage and abortion simply by the coherence and non-political rationale for his views. I know that this approach worked in the other direction with me. I was heartily in agreement with then-Popes John Paul and Benedict on issues of abortion and sexual morality, but they brought me around to agreeing with them on the death penalty and war. I am now firmly opposed to the death penalty and am very cautious about calls for armed conflict to solve international problems. I didn't use to be, and I was led indirectly to these conclusions by seeing how they fit with the positions I did agree with. Well, we'll see; and we can hope!

Now, pray for the Synod!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Holy Grandfather

After a day that had really worn me out, although I have certainly had longer ones, I watched some football and some Holy Father! I just loved the evening event with families in Philadelphia. It is hard to understand why in some ways. Its basic format was so boring, from a media point of view (except for the amazing music and the crazy light displays on the art museum in the background). But that's just it: it was not a media event. It was not so much a gathering of families but a family gathering with the Pope almost in a grandfatherly role. Families spoke to the Holy Father of their situations. He greeted them, even coming down to the older ones. Then it was his turn. He spoke mainly in platitudes, to be honest. Don't go looking for theology in that talk. But platitudes that are true. Hey, that's why they are platitudes! He spoke them like he believed them and like he enjoyed sharing them with his big family. It was the way he said them, with love and joy, that was so moving for me. It was lovely. Literally lovely because that is what it all came down to: the family as God's image of Himself as love to be seen in the world. This is what only families can be and what they must be. Everybody was eating it up. I was eating it up.

I mentioned to Fr. Fye, who was watching with me and was even more moved than I was, that the event reminded me of videos I had seen of another Father figure at such boring gatherings: St. Josemaria. During the event, the Pope consistently referred to himself as "father." There is joy and security when there is a father to listen to us and to guide us.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pope Francis phenonmenon

Let's all being praying for the Holy Father and for our country in the days to come. What a great opportunity the Holy Father has to break through all the noise that is surrounding us these days in our country and to bring the light of Jesus Christ to bear instead. I hope that he uses the opportunity well!

As a priest friend of mine used to preach: spiritual problems need spiritual solutions. We need the Holy Father to give us spiritual solutions to the immense spiritual problems we face. We need him to point us to the Gospel, especially for the flourishing of marriage and family life in our culture. The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia is what brought the Pope here in the first place.

Holy Father, be a father to us and lead us in holiness!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

communion over outreach

"'For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church."

I had usually thought of these verses from Ephesians 5 for what they say about marriage. It has been dawning on me to reflect also on what they says about the Church. Simply put, Jesus and the Church are one.

We are a church of communion. The divine communion that is the Holy Trinity. The communion of Jesus and His Church. The communion that is Holy Communion. The communion among the members of the Mystical Body.

We are called to live through, with, and in all of these experiences of communion. We are never just "out there" on our own. This is THE great modern lie. The lie of the individual. Have we forgotten that it was God who said: "it is not good for the man to be alone"? As the members of the Church, we must learn communion.

In working with zealous young Christians, there is the urge to be doing more and more: to be going "out there" all the time. Indeed, this is the Great Commission. But we must be formed into a communion first. I love seeing this happen in the universities, which are anything but "universities" in the literal sense of the word. Everybody is all over the place, doing his own thing. They are places of specialization rather than of communion. Only rarely is it possible to see real communion in a university today. The name "University Catholic" is actually redundant! It is also fun to see communion break out at St. Mary's, which has practically no natural elements of communion. It takes work, and we can do better, but it does exist. The heart of communion in both settings is common worship, centered on that communion which is holy.

To get back to the marriage analogy, a healthy couple develop their relationship first in cooperation with God. Then they are able to be fruitful and to be a source of life and light to their children and to their communities.

The Great Mystery indeed!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

lighten the load

Whenever I share how I see things in the world, including the "this-worldly" side of the Church, I am accused of lacking hope. I do not have hope for this world, and I think that I have good grounds for this pessimism. I do not waver at all in my hope in God's fidelity and in His ultimate and eternal triumph. Since we are heading somewhere else, we had better keep the baggage light. That is why I am not interested in shoring up failing or failed institutions or in building or founding more new ones. I am interested in the People of God and what they need for the journey. I have been pushed in this direction by my experiences at University Catholic, with its quirky funding, and at St. Mary's, with its extreme limitations when it comes to space. Yet, at both I have come to see that we have what we need and that the limitations are a prompt to fidelity to the Gospel. Both places are lovely places, and that is important. But what is more important at both places is what is going on inside. It's the people mainly. Both places are places of prayer. Of learning. Of communion. Of service. And all of these things with little institutional baggage. That is why I don't even consider some of my pessimism about institutional things in the Church and the world to be really pessimistic. Our salvation in not in the institutions of this world. We need to use the good things of this world to get to the next. That is what they are for. It is souls that matter, and they are at home in Heaven, not here.

Friday, September 11, 2015

how am I going to be an optimist about this?

For once, I slightly disagree with Msgr. Pope. He is writing about remnant theology: the idea that God prunes back His people or His church to strengthen and purify them. Indeed He has and does. But I differ with Msgr. Pope in that he assumes that we are part of the faithful remnant that gets renewed and grows back stronger within some comprehensible time frame, like after 70 years of the Babylonian captivity. I fear that we are more like the 10 lost tribes of Israel that disappeared from history or the Church in North Africa that never reemerged. Msgr. Pope cites the flourishing of small, new religious orders of signs of a new springtime in the Church. I am not so hopeful, at least in the short run.

Things have changed so much in the world and in the church in our culture that I don't see a "come back" route on any sort of institutional scale. There are mysterious references to survivors of previous catastrophes. Anna the prophetess, in the story of the Presentation, is identified as being from the tribe of Asher -- one of the tribes lost hundreds of years before. So there is always hope with God. St. Augustine died with the literal Vandals at the gates of Hippo and Christian North Africa going up in flames never to come back, although far to the north a Christian England did arise eventually among those who destroyed Roman Britain.

But how do we come back from the redefinition of marriage (and I am not just talking about same sex marriage but divorce, etc), the acceptance of abortion (even when the truth about Planned Parenthood is unmasked), the rejection of chastity, and even of gender, as normative? These are all fundamental to the human experience. We have entered into a world where we make life up as we go along, based on how we feel. There is no telling where that will lead.

I agree with Msgr. Pope that the only answer is a return to the Gospel, but I don't hold my breath for that to happen on any sort of large scale. It is happening and will continue to happen in mainly small communions of the faithful. I think that these communions need to be prepared for further marginalization rather than to be looking for better days to emerge anytime soon.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hell and justice

For some reason, I have been thinking a lot more about hell than I pretty much ever have before. I read an essay by Fr. Schall yesterday on the topic, for example. From it, I realized that I have some pretty good company for some of the thoughts that have been floating around in my head: Plato, for one.

It seems to me that hell is necessary if God is just. Don't get me wrong. I am not taking away from His mercy, but He must be just. The tears of the innocent demand it. God does not "just move on." There is a cosmic day of reckoning: the Last Judgement. Every tear will be wiped away, and every wrong will be made right. This is justice.

God forgives offenses against His infinite charity. We can repent of our injustice against Him and one another. But what if I don't repent? And how do I atone? And how do I know if I have? I am so blind to the effects of my sins. God does practically all of it -- all but the asking -- for us through the infinite merits of Jesus' death on the cross, but it must be done. Justice demands it.

That's why I find contemporary funeral practices, even among Catholics, so frightening. There is no sense of judgment: of responsibility for sin. Everything is celebration. I was telling a rather startled Fr. Neely and Fr. Fye on the way home from dinner Monday that I don't want any "celebration of my life" at my funeral. I want people praying for my soul, preferably getting indulgences for me. I will resort to paid mourners, if necessary.

I know how often I have "just moved on" leaving so much damage in my wake. Only God can fix it, and I think that I have been somewhat diligent is asking Him to. This is mercy. But there is a lot of self-deception and self-satisfaction in me, and that is what scares me. That is why I fear hell, and why I am sure that it exists for the unrepentant. It has to.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

clerical culture

Not clericalism but a healthy culture for clerics.

I have waited all my priesthood for something like this, and it is starting to happen here in Nashville. It certainly takes a critical mass of priests to make this happen, but even more so it requires those priests to be intentional about it.

The best of it is my daily prayer with my associate, Fr. Michael Fye. So far, we are doing pretty well. It is a treasure! Moving out a bit, we have a weekly dinner in the rectory provided by a generous parishioner. Fr. Fry and I are committed to the time, and so far others have been joining sometimes. Four of us sat down to dinner together in the rectory last Wednesday. We will see how we do this week. Fr. Steiner deserves a lot of credit for being so kind and hospitable with the Cathedral rectory. We have the "staff meeting" and "mayhem" time at night. That's what we call the meeting up that usually happens in the television room downstairs sometime in the 9 o'clock hour and into the 10 o'clock news -- that's the mayhem. It can a bit of an effort when Sam, Fr. Steiner's enormous golden lab puppy, has not gotten enough exercise during the day and therefore is pretty rowdy and when television viewing is regularly of airplane disasters, but it is the fellowship that counts, right? I have started a monthly dinner for priests, catered by my secretary/personal chef Maria. Boy, it's hard to get RSVPs from priests and seminarians! I've just heard that in November, Fr. Michael Giesler will be here for a priests' recollection. I need to get word out about that! Of course, there are the priest assemblies every couple of months and other "official" gatherings as well. So those are some of the more regular things. Even more informal ones are going on: Frs. Fye and Bulso going to Climb Nashville with their younger brothers, Msgr. Campion treating for breakfast, dinner, and just about any meal when he is in town, etc.

Priests really need each other. I think that we can serve the lay faithful better if we intentionally reserve some time for ourselves. Of course, there are the dangers of clericalism, of clerical gossip, etc., but we can give each other understanding about some things and hold each other to accountability about others, as needed, in ways that the laity cannot. I hope that this trend continues in Nashville, especially in the spiritual area. Please pray for holy and healthy priests.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

a good shepherd

Please do not consider me to be a quietist, after my post yesterday. We do have to speak and to do, as well as to pray and to be, in order to be good Christians. We must do so according to our state in life, for example, as parents and pastors where that duty is greater. A bishop, in particular, needs to teach the faith clearly, especially in areas where it is widely misunderstood. I was proud to see my friend Archbishop Sample of Portland teaching in such a way in this article on same-sex marriage. With patience and clarity he takes on the confusion that has followed the Holy Father's "who am I to judge" comment. The article is just so typical of him but more importantly it is a great example of a bishop doing what a bishop ought to do, even on a hot topic in a less than friendly environment. 

It helps, of course, that Archbishop Sample is, and is known, to be a man of prayer and of charity. His teaching is of a piece with his praying and doing. I know he prays -- I went to seminary with him. And things come out about his charity. When he confirmed a prisoner last spring, it came out that he has regularly visited prisons throughout this priesthood. His care for his mother and his simplicity of life are easy to observe: he lives with her in the cathedral rectory. And it's not a Cathedral rectory like the one I live in!

It is this integrity -- a wholeness of life -- that we should strive for as disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Grace abounds

and all the more so as sin abounds, according to St. Paul (see Romans ch. 5), so down deep although I mourn many things happening in the world and in souls, including my own, I am confident and at peace that God will provide for us in His mercy.

I have refrained from dwelling on the many radical disorders increasingly ravaging our world and have been trying instead to focus on the grace and mercy of God. Only He can save us. There is no hope in this world. We do need to do what we can in our own lives and in the world to bring about reform, but these efforts are doomed to failure apart from total dependence on God's grace.

More than anything, we need to pray and to love. Our first response to everything, in particular to anything that disturbs our peace, must be to pray: to sustain a loving conversation with our Father God, through His Son Jesus Christ. And then if we can do anything, it should be to love, especially in all the little things: being thoughtful and sacrificial about everything. Never complain. Always love. Always pray. Offer everything to the Crucified for the salvation of the world. And be at peace.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Pray for priests

Once again, I turn to Msgr. Pope for a great post. He is asking for prayers for priests because the Devil hates us. (Don't forget -- he hates you too!)

Msgr. Pope cites his mother as having a sense of his need for prayers, more keenly than he did. That's why he wrote this post for the feast of St. Monica. The Devil very much wants to destroy priests. I am blessed to have people who have sensed my need for prayer for this reason. And they are right. I do feel attacked often. And even worse are the attacks that I am not aware of. My sister, my special prayer warrior, provides me with a whole huge family of sisters, many of whom I know are praying for me. I am blessed by the prayers of those who work with me, especially in the last couple of years. I count especially valuable the daily prayers of a living saint, who has taken up a mother's role in her prayers for me as a priest. I would have been lost long ago without all of these prayers.

Msgr. Pope is surely much holier than I am. He cites one time in his priesthood when he experienced a particular need for prayers to hold the Devil at bay. For me, it is a daily battle, although I certainly have experienced one particularly difficult struggle, years ago and lasting over years. I am so grateful when people recognize my need, and the need of all priests, for prayer cover. I much prefer to receive assurances of prayer, which I desperately need, to compliments, which I do not deserve!

Please hold your priests to high standards. Do not pamper them or make excuses for them. But do pray for them in the face of the Devil's particular hatred. And be ready to help them up, if they falter under the barrage.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The day Thou gavest...

I went to bed with this hymn in my head. A sweet sound to have in mind! Here are the words, if you can't make them out:

The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

We thank Thee that Thy church, unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ’neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.

It's a veddy, veddy Victorian English hymn but beautiful nonetheless! The British had the grace to play this hymn during the ceremony turning over Hong Kong to the Communist Chinese. A bit of humility on their part and perhaps a warning to their successors?

I like the idea so much of each day primarily being an opportunity for praise, whatever else may come. As stock markets totter and terror grows in the world and as personal struggles and sorrows come our way, let's refocus on the kingdom of praise.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

what a rich life!

Well, I am pretty exhausted, and I have a big day in front of me that won't end until 11 p.m. or later tonight. And that's just great!

In a college chaplain's life, no day is bigger than move-in day for new students. That was yesterday. In a parish, no day is bigger than Sunday. That's today -- with the "last-chance," late-night Mass on campus starting again today as an added bonus.

Sometimes I wonder: "what am I thinking?" with a schedule like that. Obviously, I'm not thinking much! My new priest associate is a great joy, and he enjoys the craziness of it all as well. We were unwinding together last night after it was all over. But he has the added pressure right now of finishing thesis revisions and preparing for comprehensive exams so I am trying to find him some quality time for that sort of work. I am proud of him because I would never finish, but I am good as a cheerleader!

So today will be long and wonderful: Mass and baptism at St. Mary's, visit to a couple with their first child just born yesterday, church fair at Belmont, adoration and Mass at Vanderbilt. Take this as a plug for the priesthood!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Move-in day

Maybe I am getting old -- of course, I am getting old! I actually do feel older in ways that I have not before. This is my tenth time through move-in day!

But I also think that things are changing so fast that the only way to keep up is to slow down. I am saying this in the context of move-in day for new students at Vanderbilt and Belmont. I used to try to meet this day head-on. Fortunately, I can let the students and FOCUS missionaries do that now. I am not sure what my hyperactivity (or theirs) can accomplish. Yes, we all very much need to be in the present moment with the new students but the present moment in its connection to eternity rather than in its proximity to the next moment.

So today, I will try to support the students who come my way -- new and old. I will try to pray and live as I should any day and every day. I will try to make myself visible and available. I will try to live in peace.

In the midst of so much change, the changeless anchors us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Campus Vision

So much for St. Mary's. What about UCat?

Frankly, I am glad that we are not all that "official." It gives us freedom to be faithful!

I see UCat not as a specific organization but as an umbrella for a number of groups. "University Catholic" is not about this university or that university but all the universities! So wearing a UCat T-shirt doesn't say where you go to school but that you are a Catholic wherever you go to school. It began with the Catholic students of Vanderbilt but now extends to the Catholic students of Belmont, to medical students, to graduate students in various fields, and on and on. I hope that we continue to shoot out branches and roots all over the place.

We are not about turf. We are just about Jesus. Some of the programs are more developed and are more specific to one group or another. There are structures for different groups, but I hope that none of this is exclusive.

We are a chaplaincy. That means that we have the pastoral care of a specific group of people: in this case, the university students of Nashville. It is sort of like a parish made up of people all about the same age, who are involved in about the same thing. But just as in a single parish, there are those who attend different Masses and therefore don't know one another well, we interact with each other to varying degrees. But if you are looking for resources and support in a university setting to grow in love with Jesus, UCat is the place to come. We are here for you.

Let us know how to serve you better.

A Parish Vision

Some people think I'm joking when I say that I want to advertise St. Mary's as: "a Vatican II parish." But I'm not joking. That is what I want it to be. I want St. Mary's to be what the Church wants it to be, and Vatican II is the most recent iteration of that direction from the Church.

I want fidelity to Vatican II for the parish liturgy. Sometimes people coming out of Mass at St. Mary's say to me: "I have never been to the Latin Mass before." I want to answer: "Well, you still haven't been!" The way the liturgy is celebrated at St. Mary's is pretty close to what the Council called for, although we can still do better! Cardinal Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has recently commented on a number of the more outstanding elements of worship in the parish -- the priest facing ad orientem and the use of Latin -- as being completely in accord with the reformed liturgy.

But it is far more than a matter of liturgy. I am often asked how many parishioners we have at St. Mary's. I really can't tell you. And I don't really care. We will have as many as the Holy Spirit sends to us. We will try to let the light of Jesus Christ shine and reach out and welcome as many as we can. I do want people to find a spiritual home and to be stable and regular in it. I think that is happening at St. Mary's, but we don't have a built in constituency or institutional loyalty. And I am glad of that. We are not there to keep something going or to keep people in the pews. All we have is a lovely old building to keep up, and that is a joy. Otherwise, we are free to be what we need to be.

When we started to need catechesis in the parish, I did not think that we needed to offer a pale imitation of a school setting. Among other things, we just don't have the room for it. I want for the parish to help families to evangelize and catechize themselves, to help form disciples of the Lord Jesus of the young and old individuals who find a home at St. Mary's. It takes some creativity.

I want our parish to be able to respond to the environment that we are in: to respond to those who work downtown, to those who live downtown, to those who need help downtown. But not as an agency -- rather as a family and a home. Again, the lack of institutional structure is an advantage not a detriment.

I want to spell this out more for the people of the parish and for you all to help me. It is not the usual approach for a parish, but we are not the usual parish. I think we need to be what we can be. It continues to be a joy to discover what this is.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Well, maybe I'm back

That was a good long break! And school is about to begin again.

I have finally started on something that I mentioned here a while a go: a re-reading of the Vatican II documents. I am being greatly edified. I have made it through the document on the liturgy, and now I am going through Gaudium et Spes. I am loving it!

Here is a little something for you:

"The remedy which must be applied to atheism, however, is to be sought in a proper presentation of the Church's teaching as well as in the integral life of the Church and her members. For it is the function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly, to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible. This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them. Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue to do so. This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer's entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy. What does the most to reveal God's presence, however, is the brotherly charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel and who prove themselves a sign of unity."

Monday, May 11, 2015

done for a while

OK -- I just decided that I am done posting for a while. The school year is done, and I have a bit of a break. I will extend the break to blogging as well. I will be with my sister this week for her home visit. And then after next weekend, I will be a part of the Rome Experience again -- the summer program for seminarians that I have worked with for a number of years. This year, I get to go with them for their retreat at the beginning of the program in Ars, France. That is the parish of St. John Vianney, the patron of priests. And then to Rome. Of course, I am looking forward to this time. I serve as a confessor and spiritual director and anything else that I can do to help the director. It's a good gig! I will be back on June 5.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Go, St. Pius!

One of the deacons of our diocese, who oversees the bookkeeping at several parishes (that's something for a deacon to do -- but let's not get sidetracked!), was telling me of attending the 50th anniversary of his parochial school graduation. That got me to thinking of my own 8th grade graduation at which were told that this was our real alma mater, no matter how much more schooling we went on to have. I have to say that I agree in my case.

I graduated from the 8th grade at St. Pius X School in 1977. The years at St. Pius are more important in my life than any that have followed in any school, including seminary! Going to St. Pius is one of the things that unfit me for this world more than anything else. It was simple, simple, simple. It was a good school. It was Catholic to the core, and it helped that it had an authentic Catholic core! It was profoundly human, in the best sense of that word and with the limitations that it carries as well. It was poor, and it was inexpensive. It was diverse, not by social engineering but in reality. It is practically impossible to image such a place today.

I will be going back to St. Pius for some of these well as to Ashland City, to McCallie, to Holy Rosary, to McEwen, etc. What a wonderful mix!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


I am liking this process of giving tribute where it is due, but it is harder than I thought. I am going to have to give myself more time not only for writing but for processing internally. Some of the most deserving tributes are just going to take a long time to capture. I have been beginning and then deleting a lot. Remembrance gets complicated. Of course, life and people are complicated. Worst of all, I am complicated. In writing these tributes, I am learning about myself in ways that I did not expect. It is a good and painful process of discovery. I see how much neglect of people there has been in my life. It is prompting me to make amends where I can. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mr. Henderson/Fr. Christopher

I need to get back to the tributes to the people who have influenced my life in such kind and generous ways. I left off with my friend, Michael Tinkler. That got me to thinking about my time at McCallie, my high school alma mater in Chattanooga. You see, I was a boarding student there. But not a typical one. The Tinklers largely saw to that on the human side. I always had a home to go to, if I wanted. At school, I also had a very strong relationship with a teacher, whom I actually never had in class. Mr. Henderson had been tipped off by Fr. Morely, an Episcopal priest and his pastor who was a friend of my pastor, Fr. Conly (see above) and of my parents. Mr. Henderson sought me out from the start. I needed his mentorship because I was really uncomfortable in many ways leaving home as young as I was. I probably leaned on this relationship too much, but it was a real blessing. In one of those crazy twists of Providence, we have both gone on to be Catholic priests. Mr. Henderson of those days has been for a long time Fr. Christopher. He added some flair to my ordination in his Maronite vestments!

There is one story that captures his goodness to me and the good example he was as a mentor. In the spring of my freshman year, I was in a play at school. We were in the final days of rehearsals and so were practicing late. I was coming from the theater back to my dorm room when I ran into Mr. Henderson. It was unusual to see him on campus at that time because he lived off campus. But I did not think too much about it. I went on to my dorm, and in a few minutes I received a phone call from my father saying that my grandfather had died. This was back in the dark ages of pay phones in the hallway of the dorm so there was no privacy. I went back to my room, deeply distressed but with only noisy high school boys around who didn't know that anything was the matter. Just then, Mr. Henderson appeared. I was very relieved and comforted. I don't remember exactly what happened, but he got things worked out, and I was ready to leave when my sister came to pick me up the next morning. I received his kindness gratefully and took his presence totally for granted. It was only some time later that I realized why he had been on campus at all. My father must have called him when I could not be reached. He came over to campus. When he talked with me coming back from play practice, he realized that I did not yet know the news so he waited around until he was needed, never letting on about anything. Need I say more?

Monday, April 27, 2015

the end always comes as a surprise

It dawned on me last night after the 9 p.m. Mass that the students will be leaving. The year is coming to an end. Of course, I can read a calendar, but I mean knowing it in my gut. They won't be around pretty soon. I will miss them. The end always comes as a surprise, I think, because I don't want to face it. I think it will always be this way for me. I will probably be surprised by death.

One of the perfections of God that I most long for is His immutability. I can't wait to be beyond change. My friend the Cranky Professor, who is an early medievalist, loves to quote for me the beginning of St. Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks: "A great many things just keep happening." Amen, brother!

In the mean time...let's get ready for next year.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Going out with a bang!

Today will be quite a happy Sunday! Confessions and Mass in the parish, a talk at 3 to Get Married, Mass at Belmont, and a holy hour and Mass at Vanderbilt! But it's the last Sunday for the semester. Can you believe that?

So pray for a good end to the school year. Pray for me to be a faithful servant today. And, if you can, pray for a little more help for next year ;-)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A lovely idea

"I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass."

"Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea."

"But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea."

"But I do. That's how I believe."

This is a quotation from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Charles is asking Sebastian about whether he actually believes his Catholic faith, and this is how Sebastian replies. Although it seems superficial at first glance, I would argue that this is a good reason to believe. Catholicism is indeed a "lovely idea." It is beautiful, and it is true. I do not mean here in an abstract sense, but as we actually encounter things.

I am reminded of the conversion story of a parishioner from Tennessee Ridge. Michiko was a little girl in Japan at the end of the Second World War. She was being raised by her grandparents. Her mother worked some distance away and would come to visit when she could. One time, she told Michiko a story "about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass." Where her mother had run across this story, I don't know. At the time, Michiko received it as any other bed time story. But years later as she was walking home from school, she passed a Catholic Church -- she was from the island where St. Francis Xavier had first landed in Japan -- and saw a nativity scene in front of the church. She remembered the story that her mother had told her years before. The pastor, an old Irishman, was outside and saw her interest...You can guess the rest of Michiko's story.

It was the story of the Incarnation, not the proof of it, that converted Michiko. It is indeed lovely. And it is an idea. Such a crazy idea that only a story can really do it justice and make it true: the Word became flesh.

I think that we have forgotten just how lovely is the story of Jesus Christ. It really is a lovely idea, in a world of very unlovely ones.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

family -- real life

I went to a beautiful funeral lat weekend. Beautiful because of the legacy of family left by the deceased. Beautiful because of the faith proclaimed in the face of the reality of death. Everything was so real. So often it seems that funerals are big acts of denial. That's what I make of the "celebration of life" approach to funerals. Better to celebrate a person's accomplishments or qualities while the person is alive, but once the person is dead accomplishments don't mean much. All the celebrating of life in the world is not going to change the reality of death. Is there anything to say or do about death? Yes! Pray.

That frees us to mourn. Death is real but not final because of Jesus Christ. We gather in faith and love to entrust the departed to the mercy of God. That's real. That is what I saw at this funeral.

As for "celebrations of life," this funeral was that too, but in a real sense. Life living and breathing in the dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That's real life. There were four little boys, all brothers or first cousins, playing at the cemetery as the grave was being filled. The father of one was anxious to keep the boys quiet. Everybody else was grateful for the signs of life.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


It is hard to believe that another school year is almost over. Monday will be the last day of classes. I am finishing my ninth year as chaplain, and in many ways I feel that I am just getting started!

This has been the assignment that has caused me to grow the most of any in my priesthood. Doing something new, I admit that I have made big mistakes along the way. It has been the most difficult assignment I have had. I have also received the least support for it, mainly, I think, because it is hard for outsiders to understand what we are doing here. But UCat has made a big difference in many ways, especially in many young lives. I am proud of what we are accomplishing. And I am a better priest for it.

I think what has been accomplished more than anything else is a communion of faith, in an atmosphere very hostile to both community and to faith. It is hard to quantify that; actually it's practically impossible. Even though we don't have much to show in institutional terms, I would not hesitate to put our people up with the "big dogs" of campus ministry. There is joy, reverence, purity, understanding, and so much more beautiful fruit. The students find at UCat what they often have never found before: a communion of their peers united in love of God.

It is time to celebrate another year of grace at UCat!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spot on

Fr. Schall nails it -- no surprise.

This is what the world thinks.

pastor of a small parish in a big city

St. Mary's is an interesting place, as I have said before. One of the more interesting things about it is how constricted it is in space. We have a (beautiful) church and a surprisingly nice basement with a couple of classrooms, an office, a tiny kitchen, bathrooms, and a hall. That's about it. We have no outside space at all and no parking of our own. Needless to say, we are bursting at the seams on Sunday mornings. I was at a dinner at one of the other urban parishes over the weekend and was struck by how much space there was. But lack of space means that St. Mary's has to be creative in being a church downtown. We end up being about God -- He doesn't need much space!-- and about people a lot more. It helps that we are small. This week, for example, we have Confirmation for our parish with a cluster of other parishes at the Cathedral on Thursday evening. We have five candidates, three young men and two adults who were never confirmed. On Sunday, we will have first Holy Communion for two. I have to say that from the crying babies I hear on Sundays, these numbers will be going up in years to come, but even so they are very small in comparison to "real" parishes. People often ask me how many people we have in the parish, and I cannot answer the question. I can tell you how many people are registered, but that does not seem to correspond to who is actually in the pews. And I don't really care.

On the other hand, St. Mary's has robust liturgical and devotional life. We have some sort of outreach to various groups including engaged couples, married couples, young adults, and the needy. We have pretty dynamic catechesis. We have other ideas bubbling up all the time, some of which work out! I wish that we could simply open the doors more than we do. I am sure that we will come up with a creative solution for that. I also want to do more with Sundays: confessions, devotions, perhaps vespers, etc.

I really am grateful for this experience. We are not a status quo place. We are not an institutional place. We are not a bureaucratic place. I have to rely on people to bring things about. And first things are first. St. Mary's is not an imposing place. That is fitting. We do not seek to impose but rather to propose Jesus Christ. It is a physically inviting place, and I think the people are as well. There is a lot going on on the streets just outside but within there is a sense of eternity. And there is a sense of communion, especially with the unseen and the silent. I don't know where this is going, except, I hope, to Heaven! I think St. Mary's is very much a place to stop on the way there.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


It might be a dangerous thing to know me pretty soon. I hope that the living won't mind my writing about them. So far, so good anyhow.

Next I want to write about a very close friend, Michael Tinkler. He is my introduction to blogging, by the way. He is the Cranky Professor in the blogsphere. I don't know what has happened to his blog. It has gone silent for about two months. Anyhow, Michael and I are friends because our parents were friends. My mother and his parents were all classmates at Vanderbilt. My father was a couple years ahead. His father and mine graduated from the same high school, McCallie School in Chattanooga, but were not there at the same time. Both of them were boarding students for their last two years and so did not overlap.

My friendship with Michael really came about because of his parents willingness to support my father's desire that I go to McCallie with, I suspect, my mother's desire that I have as homelike an experience while in boarding school. It certainly worked, and it was very gracious of the Tinklers to play along. I never thanked them enough.

It started when we were in grade school, and I would come down to Chattanooga for McCallie camp and stay with the Tinklers. I really did not get that familiar with McCallie or with anyone else there, except Michael, but we became very close. Michael was a year ahead of me in school. He has always had a tremendous imagination grounded in practical reality so being an art historian is a natural fit for him. He is just so fun to talk to. He has great enthusiasms in conversation about even small details. He is much kinder and more generous than I am.

At McCallie, he would pave the way for me in a number of ways. The Tinklers' home was a open house to me. To this day, I have a key. From this strong foundation, we have remained friends. His sister, Cate, who is a couple of years younger and a retired Navy captain, is also a great friend.

Michael is now a professor of art history at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. It really is a good fit for him, other than being in upstate New York! He runs the colleges' Program in Rome for a semester every couple of years. Michael had a terrible time finishing up his dissertation at Emory and so was in Atlanta for a long time. It is where he became a Catholic. He also became involved in Birthright at their national call center, taking calls from midnight to 8 a.m. on Sunday mornings. That is a lot of practical experience in the pro-life trenches! Another time that I was very worried about him was when he was getting tenure. It is funny, but we don't really communicate about such things very well. I remember when I had decided to go the seminary. I had not been able to tell him. He came up for a visit one weekend, and I finally got it out. A few days later, he let me know that he had decided to enter the Church but had not been able to tell me when we were together. Go figure.

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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