Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle Lectionary: 684

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/113016.cfm

Why does the Church still rely on preaching? There are so many cooler, hipper ways to communicate: YouTube, Twitter, etc. Preaching, however, is not merely a tool in communications plan. It is rather at the heart of the Christian mission. In the first reading today, St. Paul puts it in terms of salvation:
"For everyone who calls on the Lord's name will be saved. But how can they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in Him in whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?"
The Apostles are those who have been sent to preach salvation in Jesus Christ.

The Church is in the salvation business. That's life or death. Salvation from death comes from Jesus Christ alone. That is why we must know His name and call upon Him. We call upon Him in prayer. In order to pray, we must believe. In order to believe, we must have heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Good News must be preached, and the Church sends out her preachers to proclaim the Good News.

That's how it works. That is why preaching is so fundamental.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday of the First Week in Advent Lectionary: 176

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112916.cfm

Please be reading the Prophet Isaiah this Advent. The Church puts this mighty and beautiful voice before us almost every day of this season. We should take the hint. We live in an age not much moved by prophecy. For the most part, we are too complacent and too lacking in imagination. To the extent that we do awake from the slumber of complacency, we tend to become radicalized and politicized because we have no hope.

Let's listen to Isaiah instead. Today we hear of a just king who will rule a peaceable kingdom drawing all the world to himself. The descriptions seem too good to be true; "the wolf will be the guest of the lamb." These prophecies are childlike in this way. They are full of imagination! Remember that the imagination is a power of your soul so feed it with soul food such as these images found in Isaiah and not the trash of popular culture or worse.  Let your heart be moved with longing and desire for this kingdom and your head be convicted with the certainty of its coming. This is what prophecy can do for us.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday of the First Week in Advent Lectionary: 175

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112816.cfm

It's Monday morning after Thanksgiving break: "Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord." Right?

If you are having trouble with this sentiment, then perhaps the Roman centurion of today's Gospel can help. When Jesus offers to come to his house to heal his servant, the centurion replies: "Lord, I am not worthy." You and I will say the same words just before Holy Communion. The centurion was right, but Jesus healed his servant anyway and praised his faith -- extravagantly.

We have a chance to exhibit even greater faith and to merit and even greater reward. You see, the centurion saw Jesus and believed. Blessed are we who do not see and yet believe. For such faith, Jesus gives Himself as the food of everlasting life. Not bad.

So this morning, count yourself blessed to be here. Mean it when you say that you are not worthy. And the Lord will come under your roof, the very roof of your mouth!


Sunday, November 27, 2016

First Sunday of Advent Lectionary: 1

Now it begins: Advent.

I used to get really worked up about Christmas decorations and celebrations during Advent -- and now even before Advent. I still wish that we could keep Advent as a season. But I have given up. What I want to do this year is to keep a good Advent privately. I hope that I will be given the discipline to do so. I mentioned some resolutions that I have in mind for Advent. They are not only interior things. To keep them, I will need more strength than I have now. I see that my spiritual life has grown misshapen. It is flourishing is some areas but is barely alive in others. Pruning and fertilizing is in order. I hope that I have identified the right things to work on. I should see my spiritual director about this -- mainly because that is one of my resolutions: to be docile to my spiritual director, now that I have found one.

Let us pray for each other. Maybe Advent will catch on in this way!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 508

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112616.cfm

Sorry that I missed yesterday. Technical difficulties, which I think I have cleared up for good.

Well, this really is the last day of the year, and what fantastic readings for that! Come, Lord Jesus, indeed!  I have some good resolutions as we begin Advent tomorrow. I seem to grow spiritually only by falling on my face. I am ready to get up with the grace of God and begin again.

I have just about finished a semester in my new assignment. It has taken me a while, but I think that I can now use more of the human resources available to me at the seminary. I have tried to put the spiritual resources to work immediately. They were so obvious: the regular schedule for prayer to start with. One spiritual need that I finally settled is spiritual direction. That is such a relief. Now I need to take care of getting more and better exercise, watching my diet -- that in particular has been a challenge for me since I now have three meals a day prepared and set out for me. Stuff like that. I am encouraged and hopeful.

Take some time today to get yourself ready. He is coming soon!


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs Lectionary: 506

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112416-memorial.cfm

"Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great."

We are just about reaching the crescendo of apocalyptic horror in our readings today. Again as we have all week, we celebrate the witness of martyrs, in this case those of Vietnam from the 19th century. When my sister was stationed Washington a couple of years ago, she lived with a sister who was a descendant of one of these martyrs. This sister pointed him out to me in the mosaic in the Chapel of Our Lady of La Vang in the National Shrine! This feast, however, also makes me think of the witness of Vietnamese Catholics in my own life time. (Having turned 54 yesterday, I realize that my experiences are not those of the mostly younger people I work with, although our administrative assistant here in the College of Liberal Arts is a Vietnam War veteran.)

Speaking of fallen cities reminds me of the fall of Saigon in 1975. I was only 11 at that time, and I have to say that the Vietnam War did not break into my world very much, except as images on television. But the image of the helicopter hovering over the American Embassy almost weighted down with those trying to flee from the wrath to come and obviously inadequate to save those waiting in line is etched into my memory. Fallen, fallen: not only the South Vietnamese state but also American invincibility.

As Providence directed, my home parish in Ashland City, Tennessee is blessed with a pastor from the Vietnamese Catholic diaspora. Fr. Peter do Quang Chau was a priest of Saigon, and his godfather had just been name archbishop before the fall: Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan. Following the orders of the archbishop,  Fr. Peter was among the many "boat people" who escaped. He eventually ended up in the Diocese of Nashville and ultimately in Ashland City. Fr. Peter became my parents' beloved pastor and led them deeper into holiness. My father accompanied Fr. Peter when he went to Rome for the consistory at which his godfather became a cardinal. But that was only after many years of imprisonment and exile. You can read about it in Testimony of Hope and other books. Sorry for the digression.

In any case, the sort of cataclysm described in both readings today is quite possible, even short of the end of the world. Our own death is our own personal cataclysm. We must be ready. It will come upon us. I thank Fr. Peter for his ministry to my parents to prepare them for the cataclysm of death. They were ready, thanks to him. And so the cataclysm of the fall on Saigon has had happy fruit for me.

Then the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Optional Memorial of Bl. Miguel Pro, Priest and Martyr Lectionary: 505

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112316.cfm

Viva Christo Rey!

This is the testimony that Bl. Miguel Pro gave as he faced a firing squad during the Mexican Revolution. In a truly modern twist, photographers clicked as Bl. Miguel raised his arms making his body a cross just as he was riddled with bullets. The photographers were there to show the humiliation of this hero-priest. It backfired. What a perfect illustration of today's Gospel.

Bl. Miguel shares his feast day with St. Clement, third successor to St. Peter as pope and likewise a martyr. At the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome where his relics rest almost every age of the Church gives testimony. The hymn of praise referred to in the first reading continues unceasingly to unite Heaven and earth in this temple.

The end is near. What sort of testimony are you giving?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr Lectionary: 504

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112216.cfm

There are a number of different Romes that one can visit, all in the same city. St. Cecilia is from the early Christian Rome. This is a Rome in which the readings for today make some sense. It is the Rome of catacombs and persecutions. But that is the secular narrative. There is also the sacred narrative. According to this narrative, this is the Rome of triumphant faith and glorious martyrdom. A Christian Rome is emerging as a sign of hope and love. Pagan Rome is splendid but exhausted. The Christians are living in the midst of all this, but they are experiencing a different story. 

This can be our reality in our times. What a splendid world we live in but also how lost! There is a temptation for Christians to be impressed by the splendor or dismayed by the corruption. That is not our story. Our story is the same as St. Cecilia's. We must live the story of Paschal Mystery in our time. We must live hope and love. Jesus Christ: ever ancient and ever new.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Lectionary: 503

The wealthy put much into the Temple treasury. The poor widow put in all. This is the sense in which she "put in more than all the rest." She did not put in more in terms of quantity. But she did put in all, and all is more than much.

That is what God wants: all, all of you. So give yourself to Him. What do you have to lose? Look to the Blessed Virgin Mary as your model. This is what we celebrate about her today. From her childhood she gave all to God.

Be among the"ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe Lectionary: 162

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." So St. Dismas, the good thief, addresses Jesus on the Cross and thereby makes his last theft. He steals Heaven.

There are many interesting ways of looking at this text. Dorothy Sayers, the great mystery writer and not-too-shabby theologian, says that it is more an act of charity than of faith on the part of Dismas. It is also an interesting choice of text for the Solemnity of Christ the King, lest we be tempted to expect Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom.

Today I want to reflect on how this text embodies the last becoming first. At some point as a pastor visiting the sick, I came to see this text as proof of the power of the prayer of the suffering. How did such a man come to have Jesus' ear? It was because he was on the cross next to Jesus. He recognized the position that he was in: he was next to Jesus' ear. He knew that he was a wretched sinner, who deserved his punishment. He used his humiliation to lift Jesus up. -- Now that I think of it, there was a church I used to pass back when I was in high school in Chattanooga called the Church of Lift Jesus Up. It was in a "bad" part of town, and I thought it was a funny name. Now that I reflect on it, I bet Jesus was lifted up in that church much the way that Dismas lifted Him up: in shared misery and lowliness. I bet there were miracles there.

This turning upside down is what made me think of this passage when visiting the sick. The sick, too, are on the cross and therefore right next to Jesus. They have his ear. I would tell them that they were the most important people in the parish because no one was closer to Jesus and the source of His mercy than they were. In accepting their suffering, as Dismas did, they were choosing to stay by Jesus, and He would listen to them. Would they put in a word for me? I confess that I did not always live the truth of this insight then. I would revert back to my busy-ness. Especially, I would continue to see any sort of suffering as regrettable and to be gotten over with as soon as possible.

It was charity that helped me to see the truth then, as now. Was there anything that I could say to lift up those who were suffering? Well, yes: that they are close to Jesus, closer than I am.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 502

If you are having a deja vu experience, it's not your imagination. The Gospel today is the same as it was two Sundays ago. The Church is trying to get us to think about the last things. We don't want to. That says a lot about us. In the spirituality class, each week a seminarian gives a report to the rest of the class on a book of spirituality that only he has been assigned to read. That way we get exposed to a lot more material than the books that I can reasonably expect all the seminarians to read in the course of a semester. The description of the course focuses on priestly spirituality, and so I have picked out books that fit the course description. The book reported on this week was He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Cisek. We are getting to the end of the class, and so we are using more modern material. This book is about Fr. Cisek's experience in the Soviet gulag. One of the ways that he found to reach out not only to Christian believers in the gulag but to atheists and agnostics as well was at the time of a death. Even though the Soviet authorities regulated burials to keep them as much as possible out of sight and inconveniently scheduled, the observances at the time of death always stirred up interest and openness to transcendence. Those in mourning were more open to considering the limitations of life in this world and the possibilities of eternal life.

It is not surprising in our less militant but nonetheless materialistic culture that death is likewise kept out of sight. People who take eternal life seriously make bad consumers. That is because they see that something, not only better, but much better is coming. Jesus makes this point emphatically with the Sadducees who question Him about the resurrection of the dead in the Gospel today. The come up with a ridiculous hypothetical situation of a woman married to seven brothers in sequence. They ask whose wife will she be in the resurrection. By doing so, they are trying to show that the idea of resurrections itself is ridiculous. Jesus shows them otherwise. He tells them that marriage as we understand it is only of this world. It does not exist in Heaven in this way. This goes for natural marriage as well as for sacramental marriage. He goes on to say that God is the God of the living and not of the dead. The fullness of life that God promises is not less than the reality of life experienced in this world but more. Marriage will exist in Heaven. The whole thing is nuptial: the wedding feast of the Lamb. The sort of unity that exists only between husband and wife in this life will be extended to all the faithful in their relationship to Christ the Bridegroom as members of His Bride, the Church. The sign is fulfilled in the reality. The sacrament makes way for the "thing." Husbands and wives will rejoice to see that their vocation has been fulfilled not abolished in Heaven, just as the priest will rejoice in no longer offering the Mass as the reality to which it points is fulfilled in the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Eternal life is better than this life. Trust Him.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Optional Memorial of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, Virgin Lectionary: 501

Sorry for posting late today. Technical difficulties.

"My house shall be a house of prayer." Even Jesus had a hard time getting people to be quiet and to pray, even in the Temple. Why? Because it is the last thing the Devil wants you to do: to be silent and to pray. Individuals have a hard time praying. Families have a hard time praying. Parishes have a hard time praying. Seminaries have a hard time praying. That is why we have to have supports to prayer. We have to have quiet. We have to have discipline. We have to have a schedule and a plan. Without these supports it is just too easy to be distracted.

If you only get one thing done today, let it be prayer. You will eventually get what you need from prayer to take care of everything else. There are times when I live off of prayer almost exclusively. But it is enough, and nothing else is enough.

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne was known by the Indians whom she served as "the woman who prays always." There are worse things that one could be called!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Religious Lectionary: 500

Where I grew up, there is an ecclesial community called the Church of Christ. It grew out of the Restoration Movement of the mid-nineteenth century American frontier: Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee, more or less. The leaders of this movement were concerned by the emotionalism that was prevalent in the religious revivals of the time. They rather cried out: "Come let us reason together." They decided to be strictly Biblical in everything that they did: "to call Bible things by Bible names, to do Bible things in Bible ways, to speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where the Bible is silent." It was an effort to restore primitive Christianity. And they actually did to an amazing degree, given their isolation historically and geographically. They insisted, for example, on the celebration of Lord's Supper every Sunday, as well as on the efficacy of Baptism for the remission of sins -- because the Bible says so. These were very sacramental ideas in that religious setting.

I want to recommend the approach of the Restoration Movement to our understanding of what is happening in the liturgy. Let's understand it in a Biblical way. I am, however, going to look to a different part of the Bible to understand the early Church's practice of worship: Revelation rather than Acts.

I believe that John in the first reading is pealing back the veil of sacramental signs to reveal the actual "thing" of Christian liturgy: the eternal worship of the Lamb in Heaven. It seems to me that we have landed in the reality of which the Liturgy of the Word at Mass is the sign. Presented to us today is worship that even the most splendid human liturgy is but a pale shadow: ritual words and actions, defined hierarchical roles, incense -- lots of incense, and blood: all in honor of the "Lamb that seemed to have been slain" about to break open the scroll. This is the Lamb who has made "every tribe and tongue, people and nation...priests for our God."

Here is what the Paschal Mystery of the Suffering, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Lord Jesus is all about. By His Blood, the mysteries of Heaven are opened to us. And this is not something in the future or the past but is actually present for us in this Mass. This is the time of our visitation that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel today. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem for not recognizing the day of her visitation. We cannot be so blind. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, our saint for today, is in that Heavenly throng, casting aside her earthly crown in the worship of the Lamb. And so are we at this Mass.

no more blogging

I will no longer be blogging at this site. That is, I will no longer be posting very informal short essays on various topics. I will instead post only homilies. I am look forward to the change.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

"Why most young men should enter seminary"

You can bet that headline caught my eye! Here is the article, written by a man who spent three years in college seminary and is now married with five children.  

Working in a college seminary myself, I understand what the author is saying; and I agree -- for the most part. My only proviso would be that the young men should at least want to be in seminary, that is, should want to undertake the discipline necessary to run a program of priestly formation. This article is about what the young man receives from being in seminary, but this is only part of the question. Entitlement is a problem for this era of seminarians, as it is for the "millennial" generation generally. Another (more) important question is: What does the Church receive?

With the right dispositions on the part of these young men, the Church receives well formed young Catholic men to choose the priesthood freely and generously or, if they leave the seminary, to start families and to embrace the challenge of passionately loving the world for Jesus Christ. In my brief time working in a college seminary, I have been surprised by the number of former college seminarians who keep haunting the place. They obviously are not resentful of their time here. Nor do they seem to pity those who remain. Actually, they seem to admire them.

I had to tell some of the seminarians this week, that although I love them (and I really do), I love the Church more. That is why I am not particularly moved by their feelings about the curfew or other rules in the seminary. From my perspective, they should be excited about what they get to do for the Church, rather than worry about what the Church is asking of them. I don't like to play this card too much. It could easily be used in a manipulative way. But seminarian whining does not impress me much. Life is good here. Just read the article!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Providence

I have been reflecting on the Providential coincidence that today is the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. It gives us some perspective on the election results of early this morning.

I had gone to bed early, sensing a Trump victory. He was doing too well in places where he should not have been, if the polls had been accurate. But I went to bed. That is how disengaged from this election I have been. At about 2:30 a.m. or so, I think, I woke up and heard noise from the hallway. Being the dean that I am, I got up to investigate and found a crowd in the TV room listening to Trump giving his victory speech. I asked them to be a little quieter and went back to bed.

Later in the morning, I was up and having a cup of coffee in my office before going to the chapel to pray. It was just about the time that we usually begin Morning Prayer, except today Morning Prayer is being celebrated privately and Mass moved to the evening. This shift in the schedule was made to accommodate those up late to watch the returns. One of the seminarians came down the hall bewildered that nobody was in the chapel. I reminded him of the schedule change and then went with him to the chapel to pray. On the way, he asked who had won the election. When I said Trump, he was a bit surprised and then said, "I am glad that she didn't win."

I reflected that his response pretty well summed up what I feel this morning. I am glad that she didn't win. That's it.

In the liturgical calendar, we celebrate today the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, given by the Emperor Constantine to Pope Sylvester to be the cathedral of the Church of Rome. It still is the pope's cathedral: "the head and mother of all the churches of the world." Its central doors are those from the Roman Senate House. This church embodies the entanglement of the Church with politics, for good and ill.

Of course, it was a blessing for Constantine to end the persecution that the Church had known sporadically, and sometimes quite intensely, over her first 300 years. It was a blessing for the Church publicly to be able to dedicate temples for the worthy worship of God. But that is not where the entanglement ended but where it started. Constantine himself was only baptized on his deathbed. Even the donation of the Lateran contained a good bit of political calculation on Constantine's part. It is on the very edge of the ancient city, right up against the city walls. It was not a prime location so as not to disturb pagan sensibilities too much. The Orthodox Churches, or some of them at least, recognize Constantine as a saint. But not the Catholic Church. St. Helen, his mother, yes; but not him.

I see in this day a bit of caution of embracing any political strong man too closely or even any political reality. Political realities change. The Church goes on. The Roman Empire is long gone, but the Lateran Basilica is still the Cathedral of Rome. It has seen its ups and downs, many of them driven by politics. But its witness is not political or should not be. As another inscription puts it, this church is the "Domus Dei and Porta Caeli." The House of God and Threshold of Heaven.

In any case, let us pray for President-elect Trump that he does good and avoids evil, but let's not place our hope in him. It belongs elsewhere.

Friday, November 4, 2016

the weight of seminary

I need to find a way to lighten up a bit as I live and work in a seminary. When you are in the business of forming priests, everything seems so important: prayer, studies, community life -- everything. The consequences are just so severe when the formation goes wrong. It is easy for me to get weighed down by what I see that is wrong or lacking. The lightness has got to come from my own struggle for holiness. I feel that I am back in formation myself because I see how far I fall from the ideal of the priest, to borrow a phase from the title of Blessed Columba Marmion's book that I am using in the spirituality class that I am teaching. I have a lot of flaws. I also see in some of the seminarians attitudes similar to ones that I had when I was in seminary that made it hard for me to be formed. It is making it hard for them to be formed. There is a spirit of entitlement rather than of humble service. That is a big weight.

In the spirituality class yesterday, we were talking about purity of intention. Everything has to begin on the inside and reach out to God. And yet, so often in seminary we have to go with what is on the outside, especially in external formation. What disappoints me the most are my own failures. My witness and example have to be better. They need to be more purely focused on God alone and not self. There has to be more light and less criticism. That is one of the rector's best qualities that I want to imitate.

I will have a short break this weekend and some time away. I want to refocus on the light: His light. I want it to shine more clearly in me so that I lighten up!

St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

the ruins of Norcia

Other than the floods in Nashville a few years ago and various hurricanes in Gulf Shores, the earthquakes in Norcia are the only natural disasters for which I have any personal reference. Frankly the architectural losses in Norcia are incomparably worse because of the historic, artistic, and religious significance of the place. I saw yesterday the ruins of the Church of the Addolarata. It was at one time an Oratory of St. Philip Neri, with lots of paintings and inscriptions about him, and it was dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. It was a small church near the monastery which was quiet for prayer at times when the basilica was full of tourists. I liked to go there to pray that summer when I spent a few weeks in Norcia. Now it is essentially a pile of rubble. All of the churches of Norcia are. This is a loss that cannot be repaired. Frankly, there really would not be a reason to rebuild all the churches in Norcia. Some of them were practically ruins already. Three is no need for them any more. Their physical collapse in the earthquake is the external manifestation of the collapse of faith that had already occurred long since.

I am sad for Norcia. It was a beautiful place. I am happy that no one was killed there. What will the re-birth be like? Well, I am sure that the food and vacation aspects of Norcia will recover. I am sure that the community of monks dedicated to Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom will also survive, but who knows in what manner and in what place? There were also communities of Benedictine and Poor Clare nuns in Norcia. What about them? Will they remain and rebuild in Norcia? Somehow things will go on, but I doubt that it will be the same.

The rubble and disruption of Norcia represents for me the collapse of our culture. Things have been emptied out for some time. There have been some good things going on in the midst of the decline, but not enough to stem it. All of a sudden, institutions are collapsing and will collapse under the shock of the cultural earthquake that we are experiencing. There will be no way and no need to rebuild all that is lost. We have to look for some new way that draws on the old but does not re-create it.

These earthquakes are not the first and probably not the worst catastrophes to strike Norcia over its long history. It has been there since Roman times, after all. One of the peaceful jewels of Norcia is the marchite, the drained marshes just outside the walls that once provided lush agricultural plots for the town. There are still little ditches that channel the water and produce a peaceful place to walk. I imagine that they survived the earthquake so perhaps not all is lost. We need to find our own cultural springs that survive and continue to live, to pray, to love, and to serve in the ruins.

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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