Sunday, February 28, 2016

Yes!

On my way home from the party celebrating the 10th anniversary of Bishop Choby's ordination as Bishop of Nashville, I stopped by St. Mary's where the UCat Knights of Columbus were having a dance. Yes, an actual party where the young men asked dates to a specific event. If you are of a certain age (like me) that might not sound too remarkable, but in today's social world it is. I am so happy about it. Everybody seemed to be having a lot of fun. I didn't stay long...but long enough.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sorry for being cranky!

There is simply too much good for me to be cranky, even if I am put out about things -- especially myself. Above all else, there is the one good, God Himself. He is enough!

We had another enrollment in the Angelic Warfare Confraternity last night. That is so much fun. And tonight a fish fry by people who know how to do it. In the afternoon, the students have organized a campaign for the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Amazing.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

February is the worst!

I have to realize that a lot of what I am feeling right now is nothing but seasonal. There is nothing beautiful about winter in Tennessee apart from an occasional snow, and once Christmas is over there is nothing to look forward to but for it to be over with the coming of spring. Even a melancholic like me can find little comfort in so much dark, so much wet, and so much grey. Add to it that Lent has begun so early this year, and the result is a really bad, no good February!

Ah, March is next week!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

More on Norcia

Pictured above is a view of the marchite just outside of the city walls of Norcia. It is a marshy area that was drained by a series of little ditches and dams built by the monks over the centuries to create a fertile area for agriculture. It is a very pleasant place to walk. It is one of those fruits of stability that I was talking about. Even though monks were gone from Norcia for almost 200 years, the marchite is still there now when they have returned. I feel that my soul has benefited from the same sort of care by the monks.

In a previous post, I mentioned going to Norcia twice when I really needed it. The first time was when I had been a priest about seven or eight years. I had really hit a bad spot. The practically non-existent human formation that I received in seminary had caught up with me. In hindsight, I can see the inner workings of the mess I was in. At the time, all I could see were the destructive things that I was doing to cope. And I couldn't really get anyone to notice. I talked with confessors and spiritual directors, and they gave me spiritual band aids when I felt like I was bleeding to death. So I wrote to Fr. Cassian: a 20+ page hand-written letter. It was a cry for help. And he replied almost immediately, by fax, telling me that he thought he could help and telling me to come to Norcia. So I did, as quickly as I could arrange it. I remember going almost in a trance. I don't think that I had ever taken a long trip like that alone. I got to Norcia. I stayed in the monastery. I prayed. I met with Fr. Cassian, and he had me read St. John Cassian. About a week or 10 days later, I went back to Rome just overnight before flying home. I went to confession in St. Peter's. It was the worst confession I have ever experienced. I suppose that I didn't really need to go, but I was about to go home after a powerfully healing retreat experience, and I was scared of messing things up. The priest told me to stop wasting his time. It was awful. Things were better when I got home. Not perfect but better. I am still working it out.

The second time was about 10 years later, the summer after my father died. For the second semester of that school year, I kept up the crazy pace that I had covering UCat and St. Mary's. But I was empty inside. There was nothing left. I was to participate in the Rome Experience for seminarians again that summer and so I decided that I would remain in Italy after the program ended and go to Norcia. That is what I did. I simply went to Norcia, this time staying in a guest apartment of the monastery with other guests coming and going for about three weeks. It was as if time stood still -- for a time. The monks were warm and friendly, in a monkish way. Three of the other guests became companions. I found places to pray in a Poor Clare monastery and a little church around the corner because the tourists made the Basilica too busy in the afternoons. I walked a lot in the beautiful countryside and mountains. I came home alive again inside. There was still work to do, and there still is.

I have not been back since. Last summer, I didn't go to Norcia after the Rome Experience, and I doubt that I can this summer. We will see. But the monks are there. That is what is important.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Did you see this?

Guess who is 7-foot-1 and fasting from Twitter?

Holy Father hijacked once again!

Every time the Holy Father gets on a plane back to Rome, he is hijacked. No -- he physically gets back to Rome alright, but his message is in tatters: hijacked by the interviews he gives on the way home.

I wish that I had a way to ask the Holy Father to stop giving these impromptu interviews on the plane home from his foreign travels. Whatever message he has planned and crafted during these powerful visits is overwhelmed by an off-the-cuff comment to a journalist's perhaps malicious question. It is not even good PR. It allows a journalist and a moment to overshadow the hard work of thousands of faithful people in carrying out these visits. These interview comments are furthermore completely non-authoritative, unlike the messages delivered on the trips which are part of the ordinary magisterium.

The Holy Father does not owe these journalists this sort of access. He puts himself in a very vulnerable position. He allows his message to be hijacked -- and it always is. The countries and local churches that he visits, as well as his hard-working staff deserve better. The message and vision that has been put forward during these trips should not be hijacked.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Nashville Awakening XVIII

Last weekend was Awakening. I am not sure why it has taken me so long to comment on it. It was such a time of grace and blessing, as always. The short testimonies that some of the retreaters share at the end were especially powerful this time. One young man in particular had this to say: "This was not a life-changing experience, but I hope that I will use these experiences to change my life." Exactly. 

I really don't want Awakening to be a "life-changing experience" in the way that expression is often used to describe an emotional high. Don't get me wrong, there is an emotional high associated with Awakening, and this young man was experiencing it -- as was I. But he had enough maturity to know that the high would pass, even though the "resolutions, inspirations, and affections" he experienced on the retreat can endure if put into effect in his life. 

St. Peter learned that he could not stay on the Mount of the Transfiguration, but he did hold that experience in his memory to sustain him years and years later, as he recounts in his second epistle. I hope that Awakening will bear such enduring fruit.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Kyrie eleison

In our Faith Explained class last night, we began consideration of the Church's moral teaching. The makers of the Symbolon series that we are using decided to start by proposing virtue and refuting relativism. They picked the right solution and the big problem.

At the end of the session, I usually lead a small group discussion for those preparing to enter the Church. Last night, the small group was instead subjected to my ranting monologue! I do not make a very good apologist because Catholicism just makes too much sense to me. I want to ask: "you don't get that?" I especially do not make a good apologist about morals because the Church's moral teaching not only makes sense, but it is verifiable; and relativism is not only wrong but a practical disaster.

If the point of how we live our lives is happiness, then our relativist world totally misses the point. Never have people been more unshackled from moral norms and never has there been so much unhappiness. People have just about given up on happiness. They just want the pain to go away.

Happiness, however, is possible. It requires virtue. In one analogy used in the presentation, we were told that choosing to play the violin does not result in being able to play the violin. Choice is not enough. Playing the violin requires skill and discipline. The same is true of being happy. It is not enough to choose happiness. One must acquire the skills and discipline that make happiness possible. These moral skills and disciplines are the virtues. 

By glorifying choice and ignoring virtue, our culture is practically guaranteeing unhappiness. Undisciplined choices result in inescapable consequences. Personalized "truth" and choice do not change THE truth. It is so sad to see people following the cultural norms and ending up so unhappy and worse. They don't know what went wrong. They did what they were told. It is a lie. 

In our culture where data drives just about everything, we ignore the data of relativism's harmful effects. The contemporary wisdom goes: "If we will just allow for more and more unfettered choice, then everything will be OK." In contrast, back in the bad old days when we were still burdened by the disciplines of virtue, there was more happiness. Families were more intact, young people did not kill themselves in such numbers, drugs were not so prevalent, sex meant something, commitments were honored and honorable, etc. It was not a perfect world, but it acknowledged what would make a perfect world. And it was more free: free to be happy. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Monasteries

When we talk of places in the Church, monasteries have a distinctive role. The geography of a monastery is not accidental but essential. You see, stability is part of what it means to be a monk: staying in the same place, in the same community. They stay put. Like anything, there are ups and downs to stability. If one is not careful, stability tends to make one prosperous, even rich. That has certainly been a problem for monasteries over the ages. Stability also makes one vulnerable when folks like ISIS come along. In any case, monasteries are definitely about place.

There are two monasteries that are particularly precious places for me. They are a funny combination of old and new. One, the monastery of San Benedetto in Norcia, Italy is in the birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica but is a new community. The other, St. Bernard's Abbey in Cullman, Alabama is in the new world but is an older community.

First, St. Bernard's
Here is the abbey church, with its wacky parabolic arches and column-like statues. It is definitely modern, but I do like it. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel is especially prayerful. My first visits to St. Bernard's are vivid in my memory. Long before he was a Catholic, my father would go on retreat there and take me along. I loved the place, and we were certainly treated with Benedictine hospitality. I also remember noticing that St. Bernard's seemed to on hard times. Many of their active works had closed, and the community seemed to have few young faces. Slowly, slowly over the years, St. Bernard's has seemed to me to be reviving in just about every way. Hard work and stability do pay off! There are many young faces in the stalls now. My father went there for a time after my mother died, just to get put back together. We were actually planning to visit St. Bernard's the weekend after my father died. There is a whole lot for me in this holy place. 

Now Norcia. 
This community started in Rome and then moved to Norcia when invited to reopen the monastery at the birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica. I knew the prior before he came to Italy, and one of the other monks I knew when he was an undergraduate at Sewanee. I visited Norcia when the transition was just beginning. It is remarkable to see the development again both in the community and in the monastery itself. But it is the personal element that ties me to Norcia. I have gone there twice when I really needed it. It was a literal retreat for me. 

I need these places. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Places

One of the unfinished projects of this blog has been to acknowledge people in my life. I want to get back to that. I think that I will add another category: places. I have already done this to some extent, writing about my hometown of Ashland City. I was thinking about it while I have been here with some young men visiting the Pontifical College Josephinum, my seminary alma mater. There are practically no people left from when I was here, with the exception of staff in the refectory and the library, which were always two of my favorite parts of the place anyhow. But there is a feel to the place that I still connect to.

It was unusual for me to have come to the Josephinum as a seminarian. I was exceptionally cantankerous as a prospective seminarian so much so that it is a wonder that I ever became an actual seminarian. There were some of the seminaries that the diocese sent seminarians to that I simply would not go to. I asked the diocese to consider three other seminaries, and they agreed to send me to the Josephinum, largely I suspect because we had a priest of the diocese finishing a term on the faculty: none other than then-Fr. David Choby.

Anyhow, up I came to Columbus in the fall of 1989. Don't get me wrong, the Josephinum of those days was no traditionalist stronghold. As a matter of fact the main chapel's wreckovation was just being completed, and we were obliged to play the Emperor's New Clothes as seminarians in talking about it openly. Here are side-by-side images of the chapel before and after:
The "after" shot is actually after a number of improvements had been made along the way: tabernacle and crucifix in the middle, statues at the sides. None of these were there initially. All this to say that I am not uncritically nostalgic in my memories of the Josephinum.

Nevertheless, I received many things for which I am very grateful from the Josephinum. The academic formation was excellent with the exception of canon law. Fr. Leonard Glavin did manage to get more than a bit of philosophy into my bones as well as my head. He would be proud to know that I can hold my own at cocktail parties! Particularly fine was the theology I learned at the feet of Fr. Francesco Turvasi and Fr. William Lynn. This intellectual formation has served me incredibly well during my priesthood. Although we complained about it a lot a the time, my pastoral formation both at the seminary and in the diocese in the summers was also excellent.

When it comes to human formation, I think that the program was pretty lacking: literally lacking. There just was not much to it. But there was an element of human formation in the place itself. The rector when I arrived at the Josephinum quipped that: "it wasn't home, but it was much." He was referring to the undeniable stateliness of the place. (That's the Josephinum in the picture above the previous post.) However, "home" is just what the Josephinum became. This unreconstructed Southerner surprisingly became quite at home in the land of Sherman, Sheridan, and Grant!

I think the "homeyness" of the Josephinum came from the fact that it was a home, initially an orphanage that turned into a seminary. In my days, there were still some of the "lifers" at the Josephinum: old men who had come as boys to enter high school seminary and then had stayed to be formed into professors and had served their entire priestly careers in the service of the Josephinum. They had wonderful German names. They were all old priests by my time. In fact, I served at a number of their funerals. (Go read about the history of the Josephinum to get the full story.) Anyhow, this meant that in the halls of the Josephinum, there were these old priests who lived there all the time. There was never a time that the Josephinum completely closed down. 

Although those days are now long past, the place still has something of that feel. I was treated well here humanly speaking, especially in my last year as my mother was dying and my ordination was moved up. On that very human level, both the seminary and the diocese treated me as a son. This includes the rector at the time, Msgr. Blase Cupich. It was a good lesson in human formation. Anyhow, I am always glad to come back to this place. It has been a while since I was here. I still feel at home.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Prayers for a trip

I ask your prayers for a trip with some young men to visit the seminary. These are not easy days for discerning the priesthood. Let it go at that. Supporting these young men and the ones already in the seminary is an important duty for a priest, as was pointed out on the retreat last week. So I am glad to be going. Oremus pro invicem!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dry the tears

This is the name of an event of the Jubilee of Mercy scheduled in Rome. I am not sure what it will be in Rome, but the name a spurred my imagination for an event here. I think in conjunction with a time for Lenten confessions, I would like to gather resources and people to be able to respond to needs and hurts that people frequently carry silently within them. To let tears flow openly about grief; about addictions to drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc.; about eating disorders; about same sex attraction; about divorce; about abortion; about abuse; about cutting; about gender dysphoria; about unfulfilled desire for marriage; about family dysfunction; about depression; about pregnancy; about just about anything touching the human heart and condition. And then to dry the tears. This would be to offer ways to hope and healing. This would be to express the Church's maternal concern for what troubles her children. This would be to acknowledge all of these conditions and more as ones that beset the children of God and that do not separate them from the body but unite them more intensely when united to the sufferings of Christ.

Knowing my organizational challenge, I ask you to pray that we do get this off the ground.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

little donkey


Oh blessed perseverance of the donkey that turns the water-wheel! Always the same pace. Always the same circles. One day after another: everyday the same. Without that, there would be no ripeness in the fruit, nor blossom in the orchard, nor scent of flowers in the garden. Carry this thought to your interior life.
The Way, 998

At the end of our retreat last week, the preacher made reference to this quotation from St. Josemaria about the donkey that turns the water wheel. It is pretty tedious work in itself, but see from the picture above how everything around the well springs to life by the plodding of the donkey, even though he does not experience it for himself. This is a good image for much of the struggle of the spiritual life as we all experience it.

It seems to me that this is also a good image of how the sacraments of vocation work, not only Holy Orders but maybe even more so Holy Matrimony. Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, bring up and pour out life-giving graces in their fidelity to their vocations. The whole world depends on their fidelity. I made this point in my talk at the 3 to Stay Married evening. I had couples come up to tell me that they had never seen their marriages in this way: as necessary for the life of the world. I made much the same point to a priest about his vocation. His fidelity is necessary for the world to flourish. Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony are sacraments because they cause grace to come into the world. 

Whatever our vocation or state of life, we are like the little donkey going round and round, maybe even with blinders on in order to stay focused, who brings up the water by which the flowers bloom and the crops come to fruit. For the donkey it is just going round and round, again and again. But for the world, it is life!

Out at the retreat center in Texas where we were, there are donkeys in some of the fields with the cattle. They are there for another purpose: to protect the cattle from coyotes. Donkeys hate them and will kick them to death if they can get to them. Got to love the little donkeys!

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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