Thursday, March 31, 2016

I needed that

Frazzled. That is what I was by about noon yesterday. I threw in the towel, cancelled a couple of appointments, asked Fr. Fye to cover for me, and then got into the bed. I had to pray to ask to be able to sleep because my mind was racing so much. And then it worked, and I did sleep. I only got up for good a little while ago. I did get up once late last night when Fr. Fye came in to thank him for being so kind and understanding. Holy Week and my life had gotten me to that point.

There is a lot on my plate still -- many, many things that I am behind on, but at least I can focus on what I need to do now. Sorry if I am inconveniencing any of you, but I am doing the best I can. Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easter victory

There was news of death on Easter -- news that makes the necessity of Easter very clear. In Pakistan, innocent Christian families celebrating Easter were targeted by a savage terrorist attack as they gathered in a park. Dozens of parents and children were cowardly murdered. Even in the midst of this great sorrow, fellow Christians are confident of their victory over death exactly because of the resurrection of Jesus. The same evening, Mother Angelica, foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) -- the largest Catholic communications network in the world, died after a long period of confinement resulting from a number of strokes. This woman of strong faith offered inspiration to so many but had been incapacitated for over a decade. How appropriate that she should pass from this world on Easter. There is sadness in these events, even horror in the case of the Pakistani Christian, and we pray for the repose of these souls, and yet in the light of Easter there is victory. Let us be inspired to live as courageously as those who died this Easter.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Keeping your head down

In the uproar over the religious liberty law in Georgia, I would like to advise prudence. There might be some sort of emotional satisfaction in pushing back against a radical social agenda and passing such laws, but for those of us who hold to traditional understandings of marriage and sexuality we need to be thinking of survival rather than scoring empty victories that only energize the other side. Even in the places where we can get such laws passed for the time being, like Georgia and North Carolina, the predominant culture will not let them stand. Big business has come on board in pushing this new sexual revolution and will get what it wants. Coca Cola and the NFL got to the Governor of Georgia, and he caved immediately. Same thing happened in Indiana.

Sometimes you have to stand and fight. Believe me, I know that. Here at Vanderbilt, we fought. But we fought on the most strategic ground we could find, not the weakest. Everyone knew that the battle here was really over issues of sexuality, but we engaged the fight over the ability to select our leadership on religious qualifications. We lost -- there's no First Amendment at Vanderbilt, but we are also still around, doing pretty much what we have always done: "proposing Jesus Christ and forming His disciples." I am happy to be a second-class citizen at Vanderbilt. I find it honorable.

Fortunately for the time being, the First Amendment still stands. We should use that as our bulwark when push comes to shove, rather than hastily crafted legislation. It is a precarious position to be in, and it probably will not work in the long run. Those holding to traditional Christian morality will become second-class citizens, but we will still be here, doing what we need to be doing: proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified. Remember Tolkien's quip of being an historical pessimist but an eschatological optimist because, after all:

Christ is risen!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Holy Week is hard!

And it supposed to be. Like life itself.

And hardest of all is the Easter Vigil, but we did it! Fr. Fye took on the Exultet like a champ. The schola made it through so much demanding material so gracefully. The altar servers were the best. Really. And did I mention the flowers, the festivities, the candidates and catechumens? As I finally went to bed last night after debriefing with all the priests in the rectory for a little while, Fr. Fye asked if I needed ear plugs to block the sounds of the Easter Vigil party still emanating from the Frassati House back yard. I said that it would not bother me because they are my children. I am happy that they are partying after the Easter Vigil. What better reason to party?

Now we have a busy day to mop up Christ's victory in the Easter Masses, but the hard work is done!

Christ is risen!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Little Sisters of the Poor

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Little Sisters of the Poor case against the HHS mandate. Pray for the Court, and pray for the Little Sisters and all the plaintiffs. If the government gets away with the mandate, then the consequences will be extreme. In the particulars of this case, we may lose the ministry of the Little Sisters in our country. Hey, there are plenty of places where they are wanted! We may lose all kinds of Catholic institutions. But even more frightening is the fact that the government will be in a position to impose more and more burdens on religious liberty. It will only get worse. If the Little Sisters win, we live to fight another day. And it will be another fight...and another, etc.

I have been following a blog by Rod Dreher in which he frequently proposes the "Benedict Option." I won't try to define it because it remains undefinable, at least Dreher always says that anyone who offers a definition is wrong. In essence, it suggests some sort of "circling the wagons" mentality in order to preserve Christian practice and culture. He referred to a twist on the Benedict Option offered by Archbishop Chaput: the "Augustine Option." I think that Archbishop Chaput means for Christians to be more interventionist and engaging with the predominant culture. In any case, the name struck me in that St. Augustine died with the literal Vandals at the gates of Hippo; and his culture, that of Christian and Roman North Africa, never recovered or came back in the way that Europe emerged from the collapse of Roman authority. I think that we may be at the point of entering, not the "Dark Ages" from which Europe emerged as Christendom, but barbarism from which North Africa still has not emerged.

Obviously, I am thinking way too much! It's Holy Thursday, and I have a lot to do. That is what is important.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bethany

At Frassati House, we are spending time with the Lord these days leading up to his Passion, being extravagant with our love for Him.

At St. Mary's too:



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I need a hero

I need someone to show me what it looks like to be an authentic disciple of the Lord Jesus today. I need a hero, in other words.

For my part, I feel that my world has changed very much and that it continues to change rapidly. I feel disoriented. Literally, I need someone to point me east: the Christian east of Risen One. Although I am holding on to the things that I know still work and will always work, primarily prayer and the sacraments, I feel that I am bogging down. I need renewed inspiration and guidance.

In order to be a father, which is what people call me, I need one myself. That is the best sort of hero. I think that I have found one:

Sunday, March 20, 2016

it's not fair

On Thursday, we had a presentation by Fr. Fye about homosexuality as the culmination of the UCat "Catholic Controversies" series. Later in the evening we had a screening of the documentary made by Courage, Desire of the Everlasting Hills. Even though Fr. Fye was clear and thorough and the film is about as good as it gets, I sensed that the students were not really satisfied. Not that they disagreed. I am pretty sure that, on the whole, they do accept the Church's teaching on homosexuality. But they were looking for something else. They want a simple, happy ending. They want the Church to be able "fix" this, as they see that the Church fixes so many other things. There is only one fix in this case. It is the virtue of chastity.

In talking with Fr. Fye and our FOCUS team about my perceptions of the students' reaction, I came to see the problem. For those dealing with same sex attraction, the virtue of chastity is not fair. I think that is true enough. I have heard it said by many upholding the Church's teaching that chastity is a struggle for everyone and therefore no particular group is being targeted. Well, that is true. Yet, for those with deeply set homosexual attractions, the only way to live chastity is celibacy. Of course, those who remain unmarried despite their desire for marriage also have only the option of celibacy in order to be chaste. Yet, their desire for marriage is affirmed. The homosexual is left with an emotional zero on the natural level. Their desires cannot even be affirmed. It, indeed, is not fair in that more is being asked of them. The chaste homosexual is living heroic chastity.

This "unfairness" is what is unsatisfying to the students. It is an indictment of those of us who are supposed to be Christian teachers and witnesses that unfairness in the Christian life comes as a surprise to these sincere young Christians. It means that we have not been preaching the cross, the ultimate unfairness. Rather than running from the Church's teaching on homosexuality, we need to be highlighting the cross in the life of every Christian, that is, the necessity of taking on unfairness in order to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Discipleship is indeed liberating -- don't get me wrong -- but only by passing through the unfairness caused by sin and death to the glory of resurrection on the other side. If you don't believe me, keep a good Holy Week and check back with me next Sunday.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

a Lenten rebirth

Yesterday, I had a great experience (in the midst what feels like a Lent of lost opportunities on my part). I went to Fisk University at the invitation of the Catholic student group there to hear Lenten confession during lunch hour. I was put in a beautiful room in iconic Jubilee Hall, and the students came to receive God's mercy. It was a glorious experience. In particular it brought me back to other such experiences. Hearing confessions on campus at the request of students was the way I began at Belmont a number of years ago. I hope that this will be the first of many opportunities to minister at Fisk. These students are not conventional Catholics.

I think that this is the way to do campus ministry: support a community of authentic Christian friendship and provide the sacraments and opportunities for prayer. It is harder than it sounds but not impossible. It really depends on the students' commitment to live as Catholics no matter what: To be "out there" with their faith. It is too easy for campus ministry to devolve into groups that turn inward. I have struggled with that in my time. Back at Vanderbilt, I celebrated a conditional baptism later in the afternoon, and surprisingly there were a number of students there in support of the candidate. This was for a conditional baptism.

What impresses me about University Catholic is not its size. I wish we were a hundred times bigger! But I am impressed by the depth of the personal conviction of the students to their faith. They are not conventional Catholics. I know that I should not judge by externals, but I do notice things. Without any prompting on my part, quite a number of UCat students choose to receive Holy Communion on the tongue and more than a few while kneeling. This is a decision that they come to on their own. It is also one that is almost extinct in the average parish. This is what I mean that they are unconventional. There are a couple of students who are hoping to make the work of Courage (an apostolate for those seeking to integrate their experience of same sex attraction into the virtue of chastity) available at Vanderbilt. Even some of the other students are a little worried about this effort because it is so unconventional and upsets the prevailing orthodoxies about sex and gender at Vanderbilt. But those involved are acting courageously and prudently. Who am I to say no?

If the Catholic faith is going to survive in the world we are heading into, it will be because of Catholics like these students who share what they have received.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Passiontide


Yesterday, we veiled the statues at St. Mary's in preparation for the Masses today. There is a little note in the rubrics of the current missal that still provides for this custom. I think that it is a powerful one, as we head into the end of Lent. The Church is in mourning.  It shows love for the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Where has the love gone for Him? And not sentimental love but rather solid love. Love that mourns. Love that obeys. Love that serves. Love that is merciful. Love that converts and changes. Hearts set on Him?

Real conversion begins in the heart and works its way out. It is interior. We are distracted by so many external things. I am, as you know, by politics right now. At a finance meeting this week, we were discussing plans for the long-term stability of our building. In the end, however, we realized that the building had made it through the Civil War, among many other things, to put our concern into a more eternal perspective. When you have a finance board like that, you're blessed!

The next two weeks should be interiorly disturbing for us. The One we love is going to die.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Wow -- look at this

This quotation is from the official housing selection guide for Vanderbilt. A student left this in my office before spring break for my reading enjoyment! It's pretty horrifying, that is, if you can make any sense out of the bureaucratic prose:

Under previous guidelines and policies, students were required to be of the same legal sex in order to share a bedroom. In order to meet student demand and to recognize the complexities around sex and gender identity, a limited number of two-person Morgan and Lewis apartments have been set aside for students wishing to share a bedroom that would not have been able to under previous guidelines and policies. Students of the same legal sex per university records, but different gender identities, are permitted to share a bedroom for all other room types and should participate in those specific balloting processes. Students with additional questions around which balloting process is best for them can reach out to Alison Matarese, Director of Housing Assignments, or the Office of LGBTQI Life. Students wishing to pursue a mixed-gender, two-person apartment should come to the Housing Office Suite located on the first floor of Vaughn in Branscomb on Wednesday, March 2, between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to submit a ballot. Both students appearing on the ballot must be present. Students not currently enrolled in classes at Vanderbilt who would like to appear on a ballot must confirm via email by 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2. Utilizing a seniordriven, random selection, five ballots will be selected. Students will be notified of the results via email on Thursday, March 3. Students with successful ballots will be assigned to a two-person apartment in either Morgan or Lewis House.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Not politics

Politics has always had a fascination and a pull on me. There were a few of occasions much earlier in my life when I could have ended up in Washington, but something happened so that I didn't go. I believe that something was Providence! I have pretty much been in Tennessee my whole life, except for seminary in central Ohio, which is pretty safe.

Although, I have spent my life on the local level and working from the bottom up, I have still been drawn to the illusion of political answers from the top down, even though just about all of those top-down solutions for my whole life have been bad. The best thing that the federal government could do is to stop. Power has become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The same top-down approach is taken no matter who or what party wins. It is a bad business.

What about the common good? What about domestic tranquility? No -- we have to be kept in a perpetual state of turmoil. I have allowed myself to be caught in and by some of these efforts to stir things up, blessedly not in any official way. But personally, I have been caught up in these things. Since being a cleric, I have not been free to be politically involved, and I am so grateful.

Sometimes I look at St. Mary's and at UCat and think that we ought to be more programmatic. But what I really want to promote in my little corner of the world are places to pray and people to pray with. And that's about it. That is what the world does not and cannot offer, actually what the world actively resists and opposes. I think that prayerful people can pretty much be trusted to take it from there as far as practical programming goes.

I can feel myself becoming too drawn into politics again. I have got to stop and do something important like pray and then do the work that prayer leads me to!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Spring Break

Well, it doesn't feel like it, but it's spring break! I was up at 3 this morning to take our group to the airport for the mission trip to Nicaragua. It's Fr. Fye's first mission trip. I have to admit being a little sad at not going along. The schedule is lighter here, and I hope to accomplish a lot this week catching up on many things. Yet it does not feel like spring or break really!

I am so happy to see campus ministry growing in the diocese. Fr. Fye is good at it, and I am happy that he has the chance to grow into it. Fr. Neely has also been getting his feet wet, especially in helping with MTSU as we offer support to their campus group. After spring break, I will be going over to Fisk to offer Lenten confessions on their campus at the request of their group. It's happening more at more places. Behind all of this is our Director of Campus Ministry, Courtney Barnes and really in the background but also really essential is our Campus Ministry Assistant, Kathleen Cordell. The early days of me flying by the seat of my pants are definitely over.

I remember my first spring break. I flew off to A&M with the first group of students to attend an Awakening retreat. That trip has indeed borne fruit, but it was not a foregone conclusion. The students were not sure if we could do it, until after a rosary novena upon our return so chalk that one up to the Blessed Mother!

St. Mary's has also moved into a new stage. The new Sunday Mass, for example, already feels indispensable and a vital part of the parish. But I am feeling growing pains in the need for more organization. Things are slipping a bit, and I need to buckle down. That is a lot of what I hope to accomplish this week: pastor stuff.

Both of these assignments are so fun! I love them both, but they pull me in different ways. UCat needs flexibility while St. Mary's needs routine. I'm trying! I think that at some point straddling the two will no longer serve either the way it needs to be served in order to keep growing and thriving. I feel that something new may be in order, but that's not my call. In the mean time, I am loving the vitality of both!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Tipi Loschi

There is a blog that I follow that has been fascinating me lately because it has largely been about the monks of Norcia. Rod Dreher, the author of the blog, is interesting to me. In the first place, he writes very well. He has a string of good books. Although I appreciate the emotional transparency and vulnerability of his writing, I would not want to be related to him! He is pretty hard on his relatives, although he clearly loves them. He just has a hard time getting out of his own emotions. I am saying all this to preface a link to a post from his blog. I am a little less enthusiastic and a little more cautious in eulogizing particular people and communities than he is. You all, for example, know how much I admire the monks of Norcia and their prior, Fr. Cassian, in particular. But they are not perfect. I am actually a little fearful for them with all of the gushing publicity that they have been getting about their chant recording and their beer. I am sure that they will handle it well, and I am happy that more people are getting know them. Fr. Cassian is a spiritual father for many people beyond the monastery, including a lay community who call themselves the Tipi Loschi, the name of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati's group of friends. Rod Dreher visited them on his Italian trip, doing research for a book he is planning on the "Benedict Option," which is the decision to form intentional communities to survive in a toxic culture. I think that you can see why these posts would get my attention. I am interested in the formation of communion in the midst of alienation and individualism, but I fear the structures. Cultishness or worse seems always to be lurking just around the corner. I would love for the students and the parish I serve, as well as my brothers in the diocesean priesthood, to come to know the blessing of such communion. It is what I desire with so great a desire. So knowing that I would tone down the praise a bit, I want to share this post about the Tipi Loschi with you.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Election Day

I rarely bring up politics these days. I look back and see too many political errors in judgment in my past to go too far out on a limb. I can say this. Although I have been a Republican all my life, I cannot vote for Trump in any circumstance. Of course, I cannot vote for Hilary Clinton either. I really fear for our country if it comes down to a race between the two of them. I don't think that there is a limit to how low either of them would be willing to go to win. Strange to say, but it would be a battle between a corrupt Establishment with Clinton and a wild insurgency with Trump.

This is what I would like to see:
-- limitations on federal government taxation, spending, and regulation

-- a strong but not interventionist defense and foreign policy

-- secure borders

-- a welcome to those contributing to our country and supportive of the Constitution

-- protection of Constitutional rights, including freedom of religion

-- return of control of local matters to local government, especially education

-- judicial restraint

I think that government, especially the federal government, is not master but servant of society and culture. Society and culture emerge from marriage and family and pre-exist any sort of government. A government that decides to engineer society is doomed to destroy it instead.

For a healthy society, we need healthy families. I don't see anyone on the political scene willing to serve and support healthy families. We know what these are: headed by a man and a woman married to each other permanently, open to children and responsible for their education and upbringing, with stable housing and employment and engaged in community, civic, religious, and political structures.

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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