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.

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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