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

Advent

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

saints

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.

1st UCat priest

Fr. Josh Altonji and some UCat friends in Birmingham!

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