Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 347

Now that Bishop Choby's letter has been read to the people of the Diocese of Nashville, I want first of all to ask for your prayers for our good bishop. The Diocese of Nashville is a different place since he first became bishop 11 years ago. I don't think that Bishop Choby initiated these changes for the most part. Instead, he responded to them Providentially. This is true of the greatest change under his tenure as bishop: the robust vocation culture of the diocese. Another bishop was asking me yesterday what Bishop Choby did to promote the healthy surge in vocations in Nashville. I had to say that I don't really think he anything programmatically, but he responded generously to what God was doing. He listens to and encourages those inquiring about the priesthood. He loves and supports his seminarians. He promotes a culture among them and the young priests that (super)naturally attracts others to join the vocation train. Much the same thing can be said of the growth in the ethnic diversity of the diocese. He did not cause it, but he welcomed it -- with a mega-church for the Latino community, another church in Donelson for the Korean, a smaller chapel for the Catholic Copts, and the Vietnamese producing amazing vocations. He cooperates with what God is doing. I have experienced this personally in the assignments that Bishop Choby has given me. Early in his episcopacy, he moved me to be chaplain at Vanderbilt which was really a puzzling move. At the time, many (I mean many) people asked me the humbling and embarrassing question of whether that was a full-time job. Well, go look at the University Catholic web site and the ministry going on not only at Vanderbilt but at Belmont and beyond. Bishop Choby threw me another "curve ball" in sending me back to seminary because he thought that a diocese with as many seminarians as we have ought to support seminary formation directly. See what I mean about his accepting and adapting to the situations arising in the diocese? Let us pray that he remains so powerfully docile to God's will and work, especially now in his suffering. This can be his greatest gift, and we must support him more than ever.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 82

"Learn from the way the wild flowers grow."

For long-time readers of this blog, you know that I have a soft spot for wild flowers which was given to me by my grandmother. Where I am from in Middle Tennessee, wild flowers are not only those hearty "lilies of the field" that grow in pastures and fence rows in all kinds of conditions but are also, and perhaps especially, the delicate little flowers of the woods, some of them quite rare. My grandmother was proud to have some of these in her wild flower garden. I think that my experience of wild flowers adds something to the reference that Our Lord makes in the Gospel today, especially in light of the first reading with its maternal interpretation of the love of God.

When I was assigned to return to the seminary in Columbus to join the faculty, I commented that the biggest difference that I remembered about the weather from what I was used to in Tennessee was that spring seemed never to come. The discovery of the wild flowers in the otherwise bleak winter woods is always a joy to me at home. This year, I may get to see if wild flowers appear in the same way since, so far, spring is coming early, even in Ohio to fill the void of a mild winter.

Let God love you, not only profusely but also tenderly.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 346

"whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it"

Here at the seminary yesterday, we were exhorted to do just that: to take Jesus at His Word, as a child would.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Memorial of Saint Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr Lectionary: 344

St. Polycarp is one of the Apostolic Fathers, that first generation or two who immediately succeeded the Apostles. If we want to get back to "primitive Christianity" as so many reformers have claimed to, here is where we go. We find that this path leads right through the history of the Church, without deviation. Go figure.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle Lectionary: 535

"upon this rock..."

Today is the patronal feast of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. I know that when I converted to the Catholic Church from being an Episcopalian, it was specifically this aspect of having a firm rock to stand on that appealed to me the most. I was relieved to find clarity and solidity in matters of faith in the Catholic Church, grounded on the confession of St. Peter and secured by his successors.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Memorial of St. Peter Damian, doctor Lectionary: 342

"My son, when you come to serve the Lord...prepare yourself for trials."

Good advice for seminarians -- and everybody else! What follows in the first reading today from Sirach shows us how to accept these trials in order to transform them. Seminary -- and life -- can seem to be full of difficulties: but accepted in the right way, these trials are the way to freedom. The Gospel simply goes on to show this teaching even more concretely. It is best to be trusting and childlike.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 341

Although the two readings at daily Mass during Ordinary Time are not usually deliberately connected (they are usually snippets of ongoing continuous passages spread over several days or even weeks), if one reads them with the mind of the Church connections do seem to emerge. Today is a good example.

The first reading from Sirach personifies the Wisdom of God and speaks of her "subtleties." (Wisdom is personified as "she" because it is a feminine word in Greek: "Sophia.") In the Gospel, the Wisdom of God is revealed as indeed a person, the person of Jesus Christ, and His Wisdom is subtle. The key to the Wisdom of God is faith. Faith is the way not only to know but to experience the Wisdom of God, which is not abstract but concrete, even personal, and powerful.

Like so many of us, the man whose son is possessed answers Jesus: "I do believe, help my unbelief!" And how do we feed our faith in order to strengthen it, to make it more powerful and effective? Prayer: "This kind can only come out through prayer."

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Going on retreat

I am going to take a break from posting. A very busy week caught up with me, and I am going to be on retreat next week anyhow.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Optional Memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita, virgin Lectionary: 331

"the things that come out from within are what defile"

We had a delightful homily in the college chapel here yesterday given by one of the young deacons emphasizing the goodness of all that God created. How, indeed, could it be otherwise? Any yet, so often we want to blame the bad that we do on things "out there" rather than locating the evil in the choices of our hearts. This is the puritan instinct. The Pharisees suffered from it, and Jesus in the Gospel today calls them out on it. I am very afraid that as the one in charge of discipline in the college, I am guilty of it too, at least at times. I would like to be more like St. Philip Neri whose only rule for his Oratorian community was charity.

The devil is going to play on this tendency by tempting Adam and Eve to concentrate on the commandment about the tree rather than on the obedience of their hearts. All the more so do we have to have the humility to accept the truth about our fallen and sinful selves that Jesus teaches us today:
"From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, malice, greed, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evil come from within and they defile."
We need a new interior creation. We need to ask God to "create a clean heart" in us. Then everything around us regains it goodness too!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 330

"God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them."

It is fun to see people on fire with the Gospel! Last night at dinner one of the seminarians breathlessly (and loudly) recounted to us the encounter of Jesus with the Pharisees over paying taxes. Suddenly, this exchange was new and exciting to him. He especially loved how Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees: that He out-smarted them. It is great fun indeed!

When the seminarian paused at the end to draw breath, I asked him: "and whose image is on you and therefore to whom do you belong?" Well, he loved that even more!

We are his. He made us and gave us everything that is us. I had the opportunity to point out later in the evening during a formation conference that the notion that we somehow belong to ourselves or make ourselves is so contrary to experience as to be delusional. You don't have to believe in God to know that you have nothing to do with your own origin and being. It comes from somewhere else. And yet, our world believes this delusion. How else can the givenness of male and female, for example, be denied, except by denying reality?

Yesterday I mentioned that bad art is bad because it isn't real. Isn't God a good artist, both in His creation and His telling of it? I am getting breathless like my young seminarian friend just thinking about it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs Lectionary: 329

Today we celebrate the martyrs of Japan. The church honors the witness of these martyrs. There is a movie out which explores other facets of this historical period, including the witness of those who did not undergo martyrdom but instead accommodated themselves with the demands of the Japanese authorities I confess that I have had some too pointed conversations about the movie Silence in the past weeks, especially for someone who has not seen the movie. I make no claims about the quality of the movie. It sounds like it is a deep treatment of its subject. I was cautioning against seeing it as any sort of religious inspiration. For religious inspiration we need to see and understand how martyrs do what they do. I really don't need any more understanding of compromise. I am already an expert at that. How is it that martyrs do what they do? I believe that we need deep and penetrating examinations of sanctity. It's not easy, and any film or portrayal of a saint's life, much less a martyr's, that suggests that it is easy is bad art. It is not real.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 73

"Jesus Christ, and him crucified."

To know nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified, offers no answer to the shouting going on everywhere in the world and in the Church today. And yet this knowledge of the crucified means to know just about everything that matters to the human heart. The meaning of man and the love of God are equally revealed on the Cross.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Saturday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 328

"He began to teach them many things."

Docility is not a highly prized characteristic these days. In our days, it sounds weak and passive. What it really means is "teachable." Docility is therefore not merely a characteristic but a virtue, as we come before Jesus. Lord, teach me...

'nough said.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Memorial of St. Blase, bishop and martyr Lectionary: 327

"Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever."

This quotation is the conclusion of the first reading today, and what follows in the Gospel is the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. What did John die for? For telling the truth about the adulterous marriage of Herod and Herodias. The first reading specifically instructs: "Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers." While I was in Washington, I had the opportunity to visit the St. John Paul II Shrine. Right now, the Shrine has not only the fascinating permanent exhibit on the life of St. John Paul but also an impressive temporary exhibit on St. Thomas More. (Go see it before the end of March when it closes!) More's martyrdom is a witness to the indissolubility of marriage, in this case the marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. It is noteworthy that in the college seminary chapel where I live and serve, the stained glass windows of St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas More are opposite each other.

Marriage matters. Just ask St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas More.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Lectionary: 524

"She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer."

This quotation refers to Anna the prophetess whom the Holy Family encounter in the Temple. I had a parishioner I called "Anna the prophetess" because she did worship night and day in our parish church. It was possible because of some unusual circumstances. We were able to keep the church open all the time, and she lived across the street. Sometimes I would encounter her in the church in complete darkness in the early a.m. when I might be making an emergency hospital run and entered the church to get the Blessed Sacrament to take with me. I would become aware of her prayerful presence in the dark church and think, "it's Anna the prophetess."

This example is an extraordinary case on a lot of levels, and I am not recommending it for circumstances that don't make it wise or prudent. Nevertheless, the example of Anna the prophetess is one that we can emulate. You see, we all have access to a Temple that is always open: our own "inner room" where we can go to worship God any time we please -- or all the time, if we please. All it takes is mindfulness and attentiveness to God. The fasting and prayer that Anna practiced help with this mindfulness and attentiveness. More than anything else, we are made for worship. It is our highest actuality. We are most fully alive and human when we worship. It is extreme living.

Anna recognized Jesus when He came because she was waiting for Him. Everyone else in the Temple that day, except Simeon, missed Him. How often does He pass by us, and we fail to recognize Him because we are distracted from Him? Remember: "eyes on Jesus!"

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 325

"Strive for peace with everyone."

Christianity is a crazy religion. Crazy, that is, if you think that what really matters is what we can see and hear and experience in the world around us. Crazy from the need to have all the answers right now and to feel good immediately about everything. In our feel-good, emotional, materialistic world, Christianity is crazy. The first reading today from the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that we have to toughen up.

But there is the promise of peace, which the world cannot give. At peace with everyone -- really? Yes. Our primary reality is a reality that we do not see. It takes faith. We are children of God. If we accept this gift, and it is hard to accept, then we can live in trust, confidence, and gratitude. These are the conditions for peace.

Look at the people in the Gospel today. They acknowledge the wisdom and mighty deeds of Jesus...and they reject Him. He is upsetting their preconceptions. It is uncomfortable and "awkward" to be challenged by letting Jesus be who He is and by letting go of a superficial understanding of Him. This is an example of the discipline God puts us through. This is how God treats His children. He asks faith of them, faith in what is not seen.

Take time to know and to follow Jesus. Respond to His invitation. Pray. Don't think that you know Him already. He will change your mind and your heart, and then your words and deeds will follow. And don't forget the peace! It will come.

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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