Saturday, April 30, 2016

St. Pius V, pray for us!

The tomb of St. Pius V in St. Mary Major in Rome.

Reformer -- Victor at Lepanto -- Dominican

Thursday, April 28, 2016

et ego in Arcadia

On Sunday night after Mass, I was handing out the "Summer Spiritual Growth Kit" that I cobbled together a few years ago. It is basically a formula for a spiritual plan of life. In it, I advocate the "heroic moment," that is, getting out of bed right off the bat without snoozing, etc. I recommend a prayer of St. Francis de Sales to help with this difficult task: "Sleep is the image of death, and rising that of the Resurrection." I was joking with some of the girls after Mass who found this reference to death a bit austere. I looked at one of those happy faces and said: "you are going to die -- and so am I!" It was all in good humor and true.

And then, it happened. Death came into the Vanderbilt community, not once but twice in a week, in this girl's very class. The cause of death was not specified, but the students all seem to assume a particular cause. Death is very close and for the very vulnerable might seem to be a friend, like sleep. To speak of death is offensive to some, but not to speak of death is deadly for all.

Death is not an answer. If you are tempted to think that death is an answer, as is so common in our society from abortion, to euthanasia, to suicide, to war, to capital punishment, to revenge, then you are on the wrong track. Remember this: death is not an answer. Yes, death will come. We need to be ready whenever that is. But never choose it. Even in the case of a hero's death, death is not the choice but rather life for those served or saved. Choose life always.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

the Gospel and politics

It is very rare to find political views really shaped by the Gospel, rather than the other way around. On the left, for example, people just cannot find a way to say that since abortion is homicide, laws should protect the innocent. What is so hard about that? I think that where one fixes legal culpability around abortion and the level of legal culpability are matters of prudential judgment as they are in many areas involving homicide. But the crime itself is not a matter of judgment. It is a crime. "Personally opposed but" is simply nonsense.

The right has plenty of moral incoherence as well. The immigration issue, for example, cannot get beyond the illegality of illegal immigrants. You know, I am an illegal citizen of this country by this line of thought. I speed. I park illegally. Therefore everything else about my situation does not matter at all because I am illegal. That is the same line of reasoning that says that we cannot do anything about immigration or immigrants unless and until all illegal immigrants are deported or are left permanently in a state of legal non-existence.

I hope that I am not playing the moral equivalence game here but rather showing how politics is usually calling the shots in our culture rather than Gospel morality, and that goes across the board. There are areas where both left and right are in agreement in promoting the common non-good: the corporate welfare that I railed about in the post yesterday, for example. Nobody in power seems to have a problem with that, left or right.

The embryonic child and the illegal immigrant are much more alike than we care to admit, and we are also more like them than we care to admit. To admit our common humanity would give a new criterion for judgment: not political posturing but the dignity of the human person.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Trouble in Music City

Walking across campus yesterday afternoon from attending the engineering students' design day, I received a text from Fr. Steiner asking if I had heard about the shootings at the Music City Central bus terminal. You see, the terminal is across Charlotte Avenue from St. Mary's so I would have a particular interest. These shootings happened at 3:30 p.m. when Music City Central is essentially a school bus stop just before the rush hour crowds begin, and the shooter and victims were all teenagers. I really get tired of the "it" city talk about Nashville. Nashville is a city with big problems, especially with its schools. There are also terrible housing problems, etc. All the hype about Nashville being so great is so superficial that I don't even engage people about it. We have concerts and coffee shops. Big deal. How this supposedly "blue" city could be any more in the clutches of big business and real estate developers, I don't know. The city gives away multiple millions of dollars in corporate welfare to lure and retain corporations and developers. The rich really do get richer, and in this case at the actual expense of those who work and don't get tax breaks. Please do not give me the voodoo line that the tax breaks pay for themselves. Even if they do, and I do not concede that, how it is just for private corporations and individuals to be enriched from public funds? How can corporate types even accept such unjust breaks? Do they have no integrity or sense of civic responsibility? I just bet that there were plenty of Metro Police on duty at Music City Center in hip "SoBro" protecting conventioneers and Predators pre-gamers while children and working people were left to fend for themselves in a gang battle at Music City Central.

But I'm venting now.

The rich have become so ostentatiously rich that they no longer care for the common good. And the rest of us go along with it, ogling the extravagance rather than being repulsed by it. It is expensive to have to be so rich! How can I pay taxes or give to charity when I have to pay so much to look good at the Steeplechase? The city can find millions for a new amphitheater, but what about a safe bus system? That's too expensive. The answer lies in who goes to the amphitheater as opposed to who rides the bus. Say no more.

Monday, April 25, 2016

not wishing my life away!

It is that time of year in a university setting that we are basically done. And it's not just the students. I usually keep running right up to the end, but even I cannot pretend that it's not over. So I have given in to looking ahead just a bit. Mainly to the summer program for seminarians that I help with. In slightly less than a month, I will be going to France and to Italy, specifically to Ars and to Rome. My imagination is already there. Even though it is technically "work," it is a good gig! I am happy to admit it.

I have been working very hard this year to be prepared for anything. I think that I have mainly been successful. Both my assignments are in good shape. They have what they need to go forward. I am glad that I have pushed so hard this year. This is the way it ought to be.

I am looking forward to our big UCat reunion this weekend. It is time to celebrate!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

the dearest freshness deep down things

OK -- I need to lighten up!

On Monday, I had an great walk in one of my favorite parks, the Bicentennial Trail in Ashland City. I had a hard time getting going on Monday after last weekend, but by the end of the day I really wanted and needed a walk. I drove out the one of the trail heads and started into the woods. There was a fantastic display of wildflowers everywhere and just about every other beautiful thing you can imagine in such a setting. It was just what my body and soul needed!

On Thursday, I went to the art show for senior majors. I had asked one of the students to meet me to show me her project. It was such a breath of freshness. Real art: studies of the human form, in particular the hands of the humanity of Christ. Realism set in an explicitly religious interpretive framework. Beautiful...and brave! She actually won second place in the show. Amazing.

The truth is out there. All we need to do is to open our eyes and see it. And once it is seen, there is no denying it! Oh, about the title of this post, look here!

Friday, April 22, 2016

it's not about bathrooms

Now that marriage has been destroyed as a cultural sustaining force by denying it of any but the most superficial, emotional meaning, the culture warriors have moved on to emptying gender of meaning. And that is exactly the goal: to eliminate gender as a meaningful category. The bathroom wars, women in combat, the multiplication of gender identities, etc. are all about destroying gender while seeming to emphasize it. One would be tempted to see it all as a farce, except for the barbarism it introduces into culture, including the real violence of barbarism. In large sectors of our society we already see what marriage-less society looks like, and now we are in for gender-less as well. To me it looks like violence. My prediction is that women will be the big losers in this revolution as they were in the sexual revolution. Bathrooms, for example, are already risky places for women. I fear the flashings and rapes that are sure to occur when biology no longer matters in the bathroom. Talk about a war on women.

These things matter. And that is why there is such strong, if inarticulate, push back. But how can one articulate something so fundamental? To have to figure out a way to articulate it means that we have left the realm of rational discourse. We are playing the Emperor's New Clothes on a societal scale. It's a deadly game.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


It's my baptiversary! It was a beautiful, warm day back in 1963 so I've been told. I have some pictures from that day. It looks like another world.

So much of the brave, new world that was beginning to form in the early sixties has not aged very well. (Opinion is split over whether I have!) In the Church, it's the optimism of the Second Vatican Council that's underway. In the civil order, there's the the civil rights movement and the war on poverty. In society, the sexual revolution isn't even really good and started, and we are not yet fully engaged in Vietnam. Since then, it's wave after wave and shock after shock. There are many, many things that are better because of these movements and upheavals, but I doubt that you could find the sort of idealistic (and/or naive?) optimism about them any more because there have also been so many unforeseen and unintended consequences. We cannot and should not go back, but we also need to learn. I fear that we are not learning but rather barreling ahead even more recklessly.

Last week, my godfather from that day in 1963 was in town. He has retired from Vanderbilt, where he was literally the last of the English department of the new criticism, agrarianism, etc., and has returned home to Montgomery. He has acquiesced less to the new order of things than just about anyone whom I know. He called me, and we arranged to meet. It was very good to see him. As I get older I value those who knew me back when so much more. The practical reason for the meeting was for him to hand over a large collection of books, mainly used in his research on John Henry Newman. I was surprised and delighted by the quality of the collection. He is donating them to the library of Frassati House. He is investing in the future. You see: he is a Christian, and Christians are people of hope.

In our rush to fix everything by changing everything, we have forgotten the goodness of God and the goodness that comes from Him that remains even in His broken creatures. He, too, wants to fix everything, but He does so with patience, love, and humility in order to find and rebuild the original goodness He created. For 53 years today He has been fixing me, and He's still not close to finished!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Just War

Last week was a week of radical conferences at the Vatican. Where do they get the time and money for all this talk? Anyhow, in addition to the conference to which Bernie Sanders was invited on the economy, there was also a pacifist conference. This one was about ditching just war theory. The conference was going way too far in its conclusions: I mean, how can the Church pitch something that has been part of her teaching for more than 1500 years? But I do admit a certain uneasiness with the too-ready application of just war justifications. Remember the efforts to stretch just war theory to cover a preemptive strike like we did in Iraq?

I had never wrestled with pacifist arguments until I encountered the thought of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker. A number of years ago, I read a biography of Day and not long after that I was involved in a mission trip to South Bend, Indiana that encountered the Catholic Worker movement there. A professor from Notre Dame, who was a member, gave a talk to our group. There is intellectual and spiritual power behind the pacifism of Catholic Worker. I think that their stance of total pacifism is defensible and more importantly in keeping with the Gospel and the earliest tradition of the Church. I don't, however, think that it is mandatory. Just war theory remains acceptable as an exception to the moral norm: thou shalt not kill. I think that this is a case of the theology of "and."

As I see it -- and I see it very much as a non-expert -- a crucial distinction lies in understanding what is the norm and what is the exception. The pacifists have the norm on their side: thou shalt not kill. Just war theory relies on the only moral exception to this norm: the exception of self-defense. Norm/exception: I think that helps. I think that the conference in Rome has a point in that just war has taken over the discussion of war and violence in Catholic moral discourse. That is, the exception has replaced the norm. This is a trap for moral theology generally. It is the trap of casuistry. On the other hand, surely the pacifists do not intend to limit self defense only to non-violent means. That's not much comfort for the vulnerable and defenseless. Could not both be right? I know, pretty wimpy, right?

I think that the Church allows for the theology of and. There have always been those in the Church who have taken the 5th commandment literally and without exception. Pacifism was a distinctive hallmark in the early Church. But even then, it does not seem that it was for everyone. Look at all the soldier saints of the early Church! They are praised for their protection of the vulnerable: for their just use of force. Even in the life of Our Lord, there are examples of meekness and of righteous anger.

I would suggest that in our time, it would be good to get the order straight: norm/exception. The pacifists have a point that the exception has taken priority over the norm: the tail wagging the dog. Surely in our day we can see the catastrophe of war, especially the catastrophe of war that has a religion to fuel it. Christianity needs to give another witness. But this is also true in more personal situations of conflict, in which I believe we are too quick to justify retaliation. Norm first, then exception.

Monday, April 18, 2016


On Thursday evening of this past week, I met with two people about Courage. We had 11 (and 1/2) couples for Three to Get Married this weekend. On Saturday, there were two women who came to the Entering Canaan day of prayer and healing from abortion. That night we had half a hall for the Pregnancy Help Center benefit dinner. Am I leaving something out? -- yes I am: my real assignments at UCat and St. Mary's that had to be squeezed in somewhere this weekend. Something seems out of whack, and it seems pretty obvious what it is.

I am happy that all of these things exist -- even if only barely! They are such positive and life giving things, in the literal sense. They don't seem to add up to much, except for eternal life. For their good, I wish that they did not all, to some extent, have me involved. I feel like such an organizational liability. Pity-- but mainly praise -- the people who really do the work!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

An unexpected encounter

One thing that has been happening recently around UCat is the Church being encountered in ways that are different from expectations. In the larger university community, I think that the Church is perceived to be harsh and closed and, by extension, that would go for UCat as well. To some extent, this expectation exists even within UCat. We have experienced recently a number of different people encountering the Church, perhaps even on a point of disagreement, as willing to listen and  as putting forth her position as a matter of concern and compassion as well as truth. This takes time, patience, and sensitivity. Our students (and I hope our chaplains!) have been deliberate and careful in cultivating this posture of encounter. I hope that this trend continues. It can be a little scary, if the encounter is about one of the more controversial points of Church teaching. But in that case, it is even more worthwhile and valuable. Pray!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


There is a book that I keep close at hand in my room in the rectory. It is a book that I first encountered in high school. It was given to me by a teacher who was very kind to me. I lost track of the book for a number of years, but I always remembered it because it is not the sort of book that I was ordinarily drawn to. It is an uplifting book of short essays: sort of "power of positive thinking." I ran across it again in the past few years when I was at McKay's Used Books. There were many tattered, paper back copies available for practically nothing. I bought one. It was obviously one of those fad books whose time had passed. And yet, I still turn to it at times. It is called A Touch of Wonder.

I looked at it yesterday and re-read one of the essays. This essay was on acceptance. It might be the best in the whole book. Acceptance is a theme that I have also found very helpful in the writings of Fr. Jacques Philippe. This is not the same sort of book at all, and yet the advice is sound. I have been playing a little trick in this post of using a turn of phrase that the author recommends for acceptance: "and yet."

I do not accept things well, especially my own limitations. That is pride. I need to add the "and yet" to every disappointing situation I experience or perceive.

Beyond this one essay, there is a generally uplifting outlook in this book's treatment of the ordinary stuff of human life. I like that. I am encouraged by that. In my "public persona" I intentionally try to live that. I don't know how successful I am, but I do see good affects in people whom I remember to treat in an uplifting way. But for me, it is an act. I am not that way naturally. I am especially not that way with myself. I think that is why I like this book so much after so many years. It gives some solace to my melancholic introspection. It turns me back outward to accept and to wonder. That's good for me. I had a spiritual director back in seminary who asked me what I like to do in my free time. I said that I like to walk. He advised not to think about things when I am walking but rather simply to notice things. It seems to be much the same advice: acceptance and wonder. Maybe that is why I had such a good time on the Seven Churches Walk!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Do not be afraid!

Last Sunday at Mass, we put out resources to help "dry the tears" related to a number of situations that cause distress and anxiety for students. It was a part of our observance of the Jubilee of Mercy. There is an event by this name later in the spring in Rome as one of the official Jubilee events. Anyhow, I included Courage as one of the resources. Courage is a Catholic apostolate that provides support for those with same sex attraction to live the virtue of chastity. It really is as direct and simple as that. Later in the week, I received a request for more information about Courage from a university official. I respect the university's concern to screen rogue organizations, and the official was nothing but understanding after my explanation. It did seem interesting, however, that Courage was the only organization of those whose resources were made available that was called into question in this way.

I have had a number of conversations with students over the years about same sex attraction. Some have found the encouragement to live the virtue of chastity helpful. Others have gone away sad. But all of the conversations have been conducted with respect and kindness, I believe. Courage is nothing to fear.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Seven Churches Walk Accomplished!

What a glorious day! It seems that in Nashville all you have to do is walk around town carrying a cross and praying and all kinds of good things happen.

We left St. Mary's and went to Assumption where we met Fr. William Fitzgerald, O.Praem. just about to celebrate the Mass of the Extraordinary Form. Then to the Motherhouse, where the prioress, Sr. Mary Raymond, greeted us with hot chocolate -- it was chilly for the first part of the walk! Then to St. Vincent's. We were greeted at the door of the church by the mother of one of our diocesean seminarians. This fact was pointed out to me by the mother of another seminarian who was making the walk. Fr. Athanasius soon arrived and gave us a tour. St. Vincent's certainly is an active place on Saturday mornings. I was especially impressed by the members of the CYO who had just finished cleaning the church when we arrived. As a pastor, all I can say is "wow." At one of the meetings going on, we saw a Fisk student who has who has revived the Catholic student group on campus. She hurried over to greet us at Fisk. She is from Los Angeles and has a brother in seminary there. It was great to be able to go into Jubilee Hall during this Jubilee pilgrimage! I think that Fisk was the surprise jewel for many of those on the walk. Then to Cathedral, stopping to pray a decade of the rosary across from Planned Parenthood, which is on the way. Passing through the Holy Door, we were just on time for the Angelus at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, and we saw Fr. Steiner, the rector, preparing for a wedding! One of the walkers had deposited lunch for us at Frassati House, and then it was off for the longest leg of the journey to St. Patrick's in south Nashville. That's about a solid hour on foot, and I was not sure if we could even get into the church once we were there, as I had not heard back from their office. But never fear: Fr. Perkin, the pastor and vicar general of the diocese, was right on hand and graciously let us in and gave us a brief history of the parish, including sharing the fact that Bishop Choby had started school there! Then we hurried off to Holy Name in East Nashville. The picture is from the river crossing on this leg of the walk. We were running a little late by this point, but I was determined to make it to the seventh church! And we did! After praying for the Holy Father for the indulgence, I bowed out quickly to get to St. Mary's in time for confessions. During the walk, we prayed the entire rosary and a number of litanies and sang many hymns. Many people waved cheerfully at us. We had a joyful moment with some ladies setting up a yard sale on Buchanan Street, between the Motherhouse and St. Vincent's and an especially powerful moment of prayer with a gentleman between St. Patrick's and Holy Name. The sole Vanderbilt student on the walk commented on the difference from the reactions when students carried the same cross to pray the Stations of the Cross on Vanderbilt's campus. Personally, it was just what I needed.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

There is a solution

When people talk about the situation of the divorced and remarried regarding Holy Communion in the Catholic Church, they talk as if there is no solution. In the first place, there are avenues for the dissolution or declaration of nullity of the prior union. These can involve frustrating processes, and affirmative results are not at all guaranteed; but these channels are there. There is the heroic solution of ending a relationship that is not and cannot be in accord with Christian marriage. Go read Brideshead Revisited for an example of this solution. There is also the solution of continence within a relationship that cannot be ended because of responsibilities, especially to children. There is need for direction and prudence, but again the solution is there. What is meant when it is said that there is no solution is that there is no solution that does not require sacrifice. The sacrifices involved in living in sexual continence in particular are perceived as so outrageous that they are hardly ever mentioned. But if one takes a supernatural outlook, what are these sacrifices in comparison to the Holy Eucharist? Which will matter most from the point of view of Heaven? Continence within marriage is sometimes required by entirely temporal things, such as health or separation. If it can be borne for such reasons, why not for the Holy Eucharist?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Surprise! The Church is still Catholic.

Well, it turns out that Amoris Laetitia is not a revolutionary document. It really can't be. The Catholic Church is not about revolutionary change, except for the encounter with Jesus Christ. That's a revolution! This document seems to be mainly a guide to pastoral practice. For that purpose, it is not as clear as I think it should be in certain areas, particularly those dealing with the media-driven questions about the divorced and remarried. I am afraid that sloppy pastoral practice will be justified in this lack of clarity. But it also pushes pastors to be merciful wherever they can and to deal with people in less than perfect situations, even when "solutions" don't seem readily available. That is very good guidance for pastors. We pastors tend to be too quick to provide "solutions" and not willing enough to accompany those finding their way. The exhortation does exhort the heroic and ideal for marriage and family life. Let's not forget that. I look forward especially to explore the parts on the less publicized topics of marriage preparation and support for families. Let's pray our way through!

Seven Churches Walk -- Nashville!

St. Philip Neri popularized the pilgrimage walk to the four major basilicas (St. Peter's, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul's Outside the Walls) in Rome in addition to Santa Croce and San Lorenzo and the catacomb of St. Sebastian. These churches are mainly on the outskirts of old Rome and so take one all around the city. This pilgrimage is one of the spiritual exercises promoted for the Jubilee of Mercy. Once before, we had imitated St. Philip in this way in Nashville so since the way was prepared and St. Mary's is a part of the Jubilee celebrations here, we are doing it again on Saturday!

We will begin at 7 a.m. with Mass at St. Mary's and then a quick breakfast. We will set out for Assumption, St. Cecilia Motherhouse, St. Vincent's, and then to Cathedral. We will take a break at Frassati House for lunch and then begin again heading to St. Patrick's, Holy Name, and then back to St. Mary's. There are a number of highlights along the way, and one sees so much more on foot.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

light and darkness

For readers of this blog, I apologize for any darkness that has come through in recent posts, but I have to say that I really am surrounded by light. This past week or so, I have been especially enjoying the light of the students involved in UCat. There is joy and fidelity radiating from them! They truly shine in the darkness.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

no sanctuary

One of the most troubling things that I have done lately is to make a study of the past issue of the Vanderbilt newspaper. The editors asked students to share actual experiences of sexual assault, and the issue contained about 10 or so such accounts. I cannot say that I read the entire issue. I really didn't want to get into all the details, but I did want to see if there was anything in common among these stories. And there was. All of these stories came out of a campus culture in which there is no sexual sanctuary for the students. Rather, they live in a sexual jungle. The response of the university to this situation is to make more rules to make the predators of the jungle more polite. From these stories, it does not seem to be working. How could it work? The goal is to make the tigers ask permission before they devour their victims. That's it. How does that make the jungle safer for anyone, except for the tigers?

In this world view, the morality of sex is only about consent. Sex is bad if it is non-consensual and good if it is consensual. That's it. I certainly agree with the first part, but it takes more than consent for sex to be good for those involved. This view reduces sexual morality to the seriousness of an "I agree" check box before loading an app or a release form before canoeing the Harpeth River. Sex is not as unimportant as that. It is the most important physical thing that we can do. This can be seen from biology. It is the only natural act that has the potential of bringing forth a totally new life. If I can bring religion into the discussion, I would say that sex is holy and therefore needs a sanctuary --  a place reserved for holy things. The sanctuary of sex is called marriage. Unfortunately in our culture and certainly at Vanderbilt, sex is left in the jungle where predators always set the rules.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Something beautiful for God

Let me introduce Sr. Ruth Marie of Jesus Crucified of the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of Grace! Sr. Ruth Marie was a parishioner at St. Mary's before she entered the monastery last St. Joseph's Day. She has now received the habit and her new name. I am so happy that she is praying for us. In the parish, she organized our weekly day of Adoration.

This makes me so happy, especially in these days where I seem to be seeing only sad or bad things. This gets it back in perspective!

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

Popular Posts