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.

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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