Monday, May 30, 2016

Mass in Ars

I just celebrated Mass at the tomb of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests, with two of our seminarians. Rick Childress is in this picture. Below are Rick, me and Mark Simpson just after Mass. It was a blessing!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Vandy+Catholic ordination!

That's Rev. Mr. Josh Altonji with Sr. Margaret Andrew, my sister, just after his diaconate ordination yesterday in Huntsville, Alabama for the Diocese of Birmingham. I remember vividly the day Josh came to Vanderbilt. I was almost run over by him on his bicycle on the bridge over 21st Avenue to the Peabody campus. He had longer hair then, but the same effervescent personality!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

setting out

I am leaving on the Rome Experience again. I am not really sure how much posting I will be doing. I will be with the seminarians in Ars, the village of St. John Vianney, for their retreat for the first week. I am looking forward to this time and the experience of spiritual direction. Then it will be off to Rome for a week before I return to Nashville while the seminarians continue for the rest of the program, including a few days in Spain on the way back.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Tu es sacerdos in aeternam

My sister, who is stationed in Birmingham, was telling me about where Bishop Foley, the retired Bishop of Birmingham, celebrated Mass on the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination. He celebrated Mass in a federal prison and confirmed 30 women, awaiting deportation to their home countries in Latin America. Isn't that awesome and Providential? Even though these women are caught up in a geo-political battle that pretty much ignores them as people, this bishop of the Church comes to them with the bread of life and the sacramental seal of Confirmation. Who says that the Church does not care? And in this country from which they are about to be expelled, they are receiving a sacrament that they had not received in their home countries but which they we will carry with them all the way to their true home in Heaven! Omnia in bonum. And many, many happy years to Bishop Foley!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Oh no!

"McCallie dispatches St. Benedict"

This headline about my high school doing violence to the father of western monastism really worried me. Then I realized it was about a baseball game... Go Blue!

Saturday, May 14, 2016


Everything is grace, so said St. Therese of Lisieux. Some theologians would quibble with this Doctor of the Church, but she has it right. Everything that I am is given to me. Tonight I was at Oratory at St. Mary's, and we were reflecting on a meditation by St. Francis de Sales in which he asks: where were you before God called you out of nothingness? The truth of "giveness" gives the lie to the universal contemporary idea that I make myself what I choose to be. This idea is nothing but superstition. There is no empirical basis for it. What shred of evidence is there that I have anything at all to do with my being? There is no evidence. All the evidence points to the fact that I have nothing to do with my being. I cannot answer St. Francis de Sales question. I receive my being as a gift, and I do not even have to know the source of the gift. If I am sane, I accept the gift as it is given. But if I am not in reality, I pretend that I have control over my being and determine it as I feel. The response to a gift is to accept it. Yet we live in a world in which there is no gift and no mystery. I and all that I have is mine, and I do with it as I will. This attitude underlies just about all our political and social discourse. You hear it about abortion and gender theory but also about taxes and laws.

It's all grace, even me.


I am literally moved to tears as I write about the newly named Bishop of Tulsa, Fr. David Konderla. You see, up to now he has been the chaplain at St. Mary's Catholic Center at Texas A&M. As a college chaplain myself, I tell people that if I am good and say my prayers, when I die I will go to College Station! He will be a fantastic bishop -- just the sort of bishop that the Church needs. I came to know Fr. David in my first year at Vanderbilt. I inherited a chaplaincy in shambles, and I knew nothing of working with college students. In my first months, I arranged to visit College Station. I still remember a warm November afternoon sitting in the courtyard of St. Mary's and being completely overwhelmed. They had everything at A&M: staff, buildings, programs, and spirit! Whoop! Texas A&M is practically a religion itself, and when you add the intense Catholicism presented so boldly and attractively at St. Mary's, then you really have something to reckon with. Go look at the numbers for yourself: vocations, etc. I wanted something of this so badly for Vanderbilt, but I really didn't know where to begin.

I picked the Awakening retreat as the place to begin. I think that it has turned out to be a good choice for us. But even that one thing was going to be an uphill climb. I came back to College Station over spring break for Aggie Awakening 79 with about ten students and Mike LaLonde, my biggest helper and cheerleader at the time. I came back for the next Awakening over the summer with another group of students. I loved it, but there was no way we could do it even with our students being all in. We were only able to pull off our first Awakening because Fr. David sent, at St. Mary's expense (that's something else St. Mary's has: money!), a whole bus load of Aggie Catholics to help with the retreat. Why did he do it? What were we to him? He was a brother priest to me in a way that I have rarely experienced.

He is the quiet eye of the hurricane that is St. Mary's. He is prayerful and mature. He is the father of the place. His staff and students love him. I do too! I am not even sorry for St. Mary's. They have had such great leadership that they even manage the risky task of succession. Fr. David succeeded Fr. Mike Sis, now the Bishop of San Angelo. I have no doubt that a worthy successor with be found for him. They reproduce greatness at A&M! Oh, and congratulations to Tulsa!

Friday, May 13, 2016

why do the heathen rage?

When I was growing up and Nashville had two newspapers, there was always an ad in the Saturday afternoon Banner with the big headline: Why do the heathen rage? The rest of the ad was dense and tiny text that I never bothered to read, but I remember the consistency of that ad and its probing question.

Why do the heathen rage? That is the question that I am asking myself today as the president has tried to impose radical gender theory on the public schools of this country by edict. Let's pray that he fails. Even the existence of such as an edict is outrageous for many reasons. Take your pick. But the biggest question that I have is: why? What will be gained from destroying the traditional understanding of gender? Once the distinctiveness and complementarity of gender are eliminated, what has been gained? Much will have been lost. Why are the heathen raging for this destruction and chaos? For the sake of destruction and chaos, as far as I can tell.

The question from the old ad is actually a quotation from the second psalm in the King James Version. Here is the psalm in its entirety:
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
7 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

It's a decade

Congratulations to the graduates today! Ten school years, and ten graduations. That's how long I've been a university chaplain. It is the hardest thing that I have ever done. I won't go into the whys of that -- many are of my own doing. But "all is for good": omnia in bonum.

We finished today with a baccalaureate Mass and lunch following. It was delightful. It is so possible to pass on the faith in a lively and attractive way. But it does take hard work. It takes confidence and perseverance. It requires going deep. It depends on grace. The most exciting thing is seeing the love of Jesus come to life in these young people in generosity and sacrifice. There is so much joy and so much hope in them. Who knows what the fruits will be?

There are so many people to thank. It is a big team effort!

Finally, I would do a lot of things differently now that I know better. I would not have been so uptight so much. And I wish that the relationship with the diocese had been better. In any case, it's a wrap on ten years!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


I am sorry for posting so much about unpleasant topics, but I fear that it is important to do so. In the area of sexual mores, our world is putting its trust not in fact but in fancy. The new sexual order is based on nothing so much as superstition. It is certainly not based on scientific or empirical evidence. This is true about contraception, abortion, same-sex attraction, promiscuity, etc. Contraception is bad medicine, for example -- just read the labels! The lack of hard data is nowhere more obvious than in the debates about gender. DNA, anatomy, hormones, and every other scientific source for determining gender all support the traditional cultural view of gender: a man is a man, and a woman is a woman. It is only superstition that supports new gender theories: "I want it to be so, so it is!" Reliance on superstition can be seen in other areas of the new sexual order as well. To prevent sexual assault, for example, one is encouraged to trust in "green dots" rather than in prudence, which is labeled "victim blaming." There is no way to engage such a world rationally. Make believe has replaced reality.

I don't even understand what is so attractive about this form of make believe. It creates confusion and unhappiness. It doesn't "fix" anything. But it does purport to eliminate struggle. It doing so, it dehumanizes the moral order. To be human in this fallen world is to struggle, very often against our own deeply set desires and inclinations of whatever sort. To fail as we struggle can be discouraging, but it opens us to mercy. To give up the struggle is to give up on our humanity. It is superstitious. Struggle is true.

Friday, May 6, 2016


I have been thinking and speaking a good bit about humility lately. It keeps me sane. As I see it, drawing largely from Romano Guardini, to be humble means to be like Jesus Christ, who came to serve, not to be served. It directs one outward to the other and away from self. Humility should make one forgetful of self. This virtue lets the other set the agenda. Isn't that practical reality for a servant: doing someone else's will?

Although a great deal has changed in the world, the ability to serve has not. In the early Church, how many Christian slaves were there serving pagan masters? Most of the time, they were probably unnoticed, except for their goodness as servants. Sometimes they were denounced and persecuted. And sometimes the servants converted their masters. Would it be so bad to be back in those days?

Last night, I was talking to the UCat leadership for next year. I suggested that we should simply love others without an agenda of our own. Remember Jesus asking: "what do you want me to do for you?" We need to have the courage to ask that same question.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

It's Heaven, stupid!

Sorry for the insulting word in the title of this post. A priest friend adapted a line from Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign to the spiritual life. No wonder it has some rough edges! In the Clinton "war room" there was reputedly a banner that said: "It's the economy, stupid!" The motto was to keep the campaign focused, and it worked. My friend suggested reworking of the slogan for the spiritual life. Boy, do we need it now!

I was at dinner recently with some very wealthy, very successful people in an elegant home having a delicious dinner and interesting conversation. Yet even here, the "tears of things" literally entered in. The preacher in me came out, and I basically rehashed my homily from Sunday containing the wisdom of Sr. Catherine de Ricci: "offer it up, honey, offer it up." To lighten the mood, I recounted the story of the election banner transformed into a gaze at Heaven.

If there were tears even at that table on that evening, then there is no hope of joy or peace in this world. And that is just the point. It really is Heaven, beloved!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Veritas vos liberabit -- the Truth will set you free

This morning I had my "2016 moment" that Peggy Noonan has written about. I feel that I have lost my country. More likely, I have lost the image of my country that I tried to keep alive in my head and heart. I am beginning to realize that this country of my imagination has not existed for a long time in reality. I have no one to support for president. Although I have been a supporter of the party that my state's two federal senators, governor, and the overwhelming majority of the legislature belong to, I don't feel represented by them at all. I am about to lose my vote -- by action of a federal judge -- for the one thing that I did care about, the pro-life amendment to the state constitution, because I really did not care enough to vote in the governor's election.

It is even worse when confronted by the other party. My only consolation there is that this party seems hardly enthused by its apparent nominee for president who went down to defeat once again last night. I was recently with people whom I like and who are closely tied in with the radical mayor of this city. In conversation, they expressed dismay about unisex bathrooms and sex education in kindergarten, but where do they think this is coming from? And do they think that they will escape enforced conformity to this new orthodoxy?

And it's not just politics. It's everything, everywhere.

But then, but then...Ah, yes. I am free to live the truth. I am actually freer when I am not tied to things of this world. Being free of Vanderbilt, for example, has helped the mission of University Catholic. So I'll have to figure out how to live in the new situation, but I already feel lighter and truer.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

serve the people!

The practical mastermind of the Rome Experience, the summer program for seminarians that I have been working with for a number of years, is Fr. James Socias. Fr. Socias is a priest of Opus Dei and a Catalan. He is also the mastermind of the Midwest Theological Forum, the publisher of blockbuster classics such as the Daily Roman Missal and The Handbook of Prayers, the best and most beautiful editions of altar missals, the excellent Didache catechetical series, arcane canonical books available nowhere else in English, and much more. These publishing ventures allow him to subsidize substantially things like the Rome Experience which could never pay for themselves.

Fr. Socias is a genius at organization. When talking with Fr. Socias, one feels that one is engaged in a conspiracy! He is challenging, warm, and friendly. He has a three-point plan for getting things done:
1) make the plans
2) meet the people
3) do the things.
Of these, #2 is most important and most neglected because it is the hardest. He is a master at it.

We are having a planning retreat for next school year later in the week, especially planning for Roman Rush, the outreach to students at the beginning of the school year. I will quote Fr. Socias once again to the students: meet the people!

Perhaps even better for what these student leaders are trying to do is: serve the people! (which necessarily involves meeting them!) What are these leaders trying to do? They are trying to form a communion of disciples of the Lord Jesus, the one who came not to be served but to serve. What better way than to imitate Him. This is Christian leadership, and it nurtures Christian communion.

Monday, May 2, 2016

How romantic...not!

Yesterday, I was walking into Benton Chapel to start setting up for the last 9 p.m. Mass of the semester. Of course, I forgot something in my car and had to go back down to the parking area. As I came back down, I was following a couple who seemed at first glance to be swept up in young love and spring time. The young man had what seemed to be almost a death grip on the girl's hand, which he was holding at an awkward angle. Oh well, love at this stage can be awkward. But then just about all the romance went out of the picture when I realized that he was also on the phone. I must confess to overhearing part of the conversation as our paths diverged. He was talking about his participation in the marathon on the person on the phone. I can understand why he had such a grip on the girl: to prevent her from escaping, which is what she should have been doing if she had any self-respect.

At about this time of year several years ago, I came across a young man on campus. He, too, was on the phone. As I passed, he took the phone down and asked for prayers. It seems that he was breaking up with his girlfriend, who was also a student at Vanderbilt. (Well, at least he was not texting the break up.) I said quickly: "not on the phone, you don't." And as I kept walking, I did manage to hear him ask where she was.

Since when is a celibate priest an expert on romance? But at least I know this much.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hey, it IS the Catholic Church!

Last night cleaning up after our University Catholic reunion dinner, Courtney Barnes, our director of campus ministry, and I had gone back down the hall of the giant Catholic Pastoral Center -- the former Two Rivers Baptist Church, across from Opryland, to put away the trail of balloons attached to potted palms which led to the chapel we had used for Mass. As we entered the vestibule of the largest auditorium (we were using only the second largest space for the dinner) which is essentially the church for Sagrado Corazon Hispanic community, I could see that Adoration was going on. And then we realized that there were people sleeping in the vestibule, I suppose, awaiting their time of adoration. And then turning the last corner to the smaller chapel where we had Mass and where the Coptic Catholics had just celebrated their Easter Vigil, lots of little Coptic children were running around happily. We decided on the spot to give them the balloons which, of course, delighted them!

Is this the Catholic Church, or what?

P.S. Our event went so well. Kathleen Cordell is simply amazing. She can throw a party, getting lots of people involved and watching a budget -- and all really fun.

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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