26 April 2009

You are Witnesses of These Things

In what sense am I a witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus? And why does it matter? First question first.

Let me begin subjectively because we are "all about" subjective experience these days. I am a witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus every time that I let whatever is death-dealing in my life be overcome by love and mercy. This is especially true of my own failures. In this sense, literally anyone can be a witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus, even without knowing it. If anyone can receive these graces, then how do I know that they come from the pierced heart of Jesus? Because I am also an objective witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus. I believe that I am an actual objective witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus -- as much as the Apostles were -- through the Mass. Although present under sacramental signs, I believe that at Mass I actually become a witness to the saving events of the life of Jesus. I receive directly from Jesus His own flesh and blood. There is thus no doubt for me where the graces of salvation come from. I believe that the objective reality of the Mass is why people are drawn to the Mass, even without faith or with weak and faltering faith. It is what it is regardless of the response. All the better if I am ready to recognize the Mass for what it is.

It matters because love and mercy are the only way out of the misery of sin and death. Christians propose love and mercy in the flesh of Jesus. Catholics propose the flesh of Jesus in the Mass.

23 April 2009

The Father Loves the Son

"The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to Him." (John 3:35)

"The Father loves the Son." Notes that children pass in school (or used to!) sound like this. How appropriate that our first tries at love are modeled on the love of God! What other model is there? At this time of year especially, I see a lot of human loves budding out all around me among the students.

The adventure of Trinitarian love is the story of the Christian life. I can hear you now: "What is he talking about?" Because the Holy Trinity is a loving communion of persons, our life is love. This is the Christian message. It is therefore of the first importance to know how to love.

We really are not very good at it, left on our own. Jeremiah says that: "More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
Fortunately, God has revealed love to us; and that revelation is perfected in Jesus Christ. All of God's love for us is mediated through the person of Jesus Christ. If we want to love well -- and who doesn't? -- then we must submit our love to Jesus and let it pass through the purification of His heart. Love goes awry when we try to "use" it on our own. Loves become selfish in this way. This is true for friendships, for boy- and girl-friendships, for love of parents or children, even for lesser loves like the love of things. The love that Jesus shows us is always sacrificial. Jesus gives everything to the Father, and the Father "has given everything over to Him."

What does this mean in reality? It means, for example, that you offer your love for your friend to the Lord for the glory of God and for the good of the friend. That means that the friend might be blessed in a way that changes your friendship. You rejoice in that rather than feeling hurt by it.

It means, for example, that you offer your love for your girl-friend to Jesus -- you see her through His eyes. This will keep your relationship pure. You won't be tempted to ask: "Since we love each other, it must be alright to ..." You will see that such "love" cannot be real because it does not accord with the love of God, the source of all love.

Like the "Last Duchess" of Browning's poem, who "liked whate'er/ She looked on, and her looks when everywhere," our loves are unruly. Focus them all on the heart of Jesus, and He will purify them. If you have a love that cannot pass through the heart of Jesus, then it is a counterfeit of love.

22 April 2009

Saint days, again!

We are back to having saints days again after the long fast of Lent and the solemnities of Easter Week! This week we have Sts Anselm, George, and Mark. A saint is a friend of the Risen Lord. Friendship is that wonderful, detached, and self-less love. Friendship is loyal but not exclusive or possessive. Friends are united by a common love. For Christians, that common love is Jesus Christ. The circle of Christian friends grows ever larger. Here is an image for you of how Christian friendship works. (Thanks for this insight goes to my friend, Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, who gave me this print.)

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This is an image of the disciples on the road to Emmaus painted by Bl. John of Fiesole -- Fra Angelico. (I bet you didn't know that they were Dominicans!) Look what unites them: Eyes on Jesus. bff, indeed!

21 April 2009

College Days

It's scary what you can find on the internet ... After coming home from the senior send-off party, which was the first ever Vandy+Catholic semi-formal -- because these seniors love to dance -- I was looking for an image of my college days at the University of the South in the '80s. And this picture came up. Yikes! It's a much younger me, holding the mace of the university before an academic procession.


I know that I am weird, but I always liked exam time, especially in the spring -- especially when the weather was beautiful as it is now. I know that sounds crazy. For a procrastinator like me, there is some relief in the final reckoning! The misery cannot go on any longer. There is a huge rush of adrenaline. How can I get all of this done?! And then it is done.

I remember getting a card from a friend at about this time of year. On the outside, it showed a head sawed open with lots of books crammed in it. On the inside, it said: "It is not what you know, but when you know it." How true that is!

Not that I recommend procrastination. I am merely recounting history and explaining my strange associations with these circumstances. So if you find yourself in the position I ALWAYS found myself in at exam time, don't begrudge the good weather or load yourself with recriminations. Enjoy the ride! To quote Vergil: "forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit." I have lived long enough to know that it's true.

19 April 2009

"Absolute liberty of personal volition"

I follow my own moral standards. I would never do something or not do something because of the Honor Code. I would just do it because it seemed right or wrong to me.
This quotation is from Friday's Vanderbilt Hustler in the lead article on the Honor Code. If this statement indicates the way the Vanderbilt Honor Code is accepted, then it indicates the end of the Honor Code as a code. If one's own opinion is the ultimate arbiter of morality, there can be no imposition of a code. If there is no authority outside of the self, then there is no authority.

If you would like to think about this dilemma, here is a link to an article for you. The title of this post is a quotation from the article. The article make the claim that the philosophy behind such a statement as appeared in the Hustler is nihilism.

What is the Christian answer to such an nihilistic outlook?
Fortunately, this was not the only understanding of the Honor Code offered in the article. Another student disagreed:
The Honor Code is kind of the foundation for learning. If you go to all your lectures and classes with the attitude of I want to learn this, that's what I am here for and I don't want to take the easy way out to get an A in this class, then yeah, it becomes a part of your everyday experience.
This student recognizes standards outside of himself that form the self.

Any thoughts?

17 April 2009

"It is the Lord"

The apostles have gone ahead to Galilee, and not knowing what to do with themselves have gone back to fishing. Jesus appears there as they are fishing and even gives some good fishing advice. John exclaims: "It is the Lord."

Where will the Lord find you today?

16 April 2009

"Look at my hands and my feet"

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What do we see in His hands and feet? Living flesh that has been pierced and yet lives. Look at that. What does it tell you about Him?

This is where our prayer should begin: looking at Jesus. When we look at Him, what is not possible? What doubt, fear, suffering, or struggle cannot be faced? If He is the center, then even real "issues" shift in perspective, much less the ones that are imaginary. We can get over and out of ourselves to experience the glory of God. Jesus really died but really rose.

So practically speaking, begin praying by encountering the Lord. Scripture is probably the best place for the encounter. Join Him in His primary mission of offering glory to the Father. Be drawn into His goodness, beauty, and truth. Only much later ever give a thought to yourself, and when you do let be with His eyes of mercy for yourself and others and mainly to serve as His hands and feet -- pierced and living.

15 April 2009


These are the days of mercy. As Christians, we are to live Jesus in a radical way in the world. What the Lord Jesus brought to the world and therefore what Christianity has to offer the world more than anything else is mercy: love and forgiveness without condition or limit. Fortunately for us, we live in a time that is rich in the need for mercy. Christians just about everywhere are singled out for ridicule, persecution, or worse. Rather than sharpening our apologetics or defending our rights, let's first of all show mercy! We have no more fear. We know how the story ends. Christ is risen! And Jesus Christ is coming again to wipe away every tear and to right every wrong.

Only mercy can touch the frenzied and broken hearts of this world. They do have fear! The fear of loneliness, the fear of isolation, the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, the fear of love. Yes, especially of love because it costs so much. What if I love and then am hurt? What if I love and then am left? Don't rely on love.

Coming back from Honduras after spring break, we were talking in the Miami airport about the poverty of our country: the poverty of love. We want to fix and control every situation, but we do not want to love. We have so much power and money but so little love. We throw money and expertise at situations that really need love. It does not work. We need to be really generous in the way that really costs: generous in love. That's mercy!

14 April 2009

Hidden With Christ in God

Our true life is in Christ: as St. Paul has it "hidden with Christ in God."

This is the truth that the contemplative life reveals. I think of this verse from the second reading of the Easter Day Mass (Col. 3.3) especially in connection with the Dominican nuns of Marbury, AL. (Look at the "History" section especially!) My father, sister, and I stopped to visit the monastery on the way back from the beach last year! Get off I-65 between Montgomery and Birmingham at the "Big Peach" -- Clanton, AL. These nuns are hidden with Christ in God!

Live Jesus!

This motto is not particularly an expression of 17th century French piety, even though it comes from St. Francis de Sales. It is really the message of the Gospel. Now that we are in the Easter season, we get to hear from that exciting and, at least to me, troubling book, The Acts of the Apostles. We see the young Church beginning after Pentecost to preach Jesus Christ crucified and risen in their words, indeed, but even more in their lives. The Apostles and their followers start to resemble Jesus. In the Gospels they are so different from Him; now they are Him. They, to use the words of St. Francis de Sales, live Jesus. Well, how about us? We live in exciting and troubling times in the world and in the Church. Are we committing our own acts of the apostles, which are really the acts of Jesus? Do we resemble Jesus in the way St. Peter (Acts 5.15) did in healing by shadow? Or the way St. Stephen (Acts 7.59-60) did in his martyrdom?

Have the mind that is in Christ Jesus in you. Go about as He did continually desiring the glory of His Father. Of course, we need the teaching of the Church, especially the moral teaching, to keep us from deceiving ourselves; but those teachings are the guard rails on the edge of the cliff of catastrophe. Aim higher. Live Jesus!

13 April 2009

Christ is Risen! -- campus style

For any of you who know me, one of the most improbable things about my being a college chaplain is the fact that I am an early riser. Just look at the time signature on any of my posts. In campus ministry, however, things need to happen at night because that is when the students are available. The Easter Vigil is tailor made for the hours of my charges so I take advantage of it!

After the Easter Vigil, we have a party for those who had been received into the Church. The most noteworthy aspect of the party is the use of confetti-filled eggs that are cracked open on the heads of unsuspecting victims. The Frassati House, which serves as our campus center and my residence upstairs, is packed. There is lots of food. It is very loud and very festive. After a couple of hours, the crowd has thinned and we begin a sort-of talent show. Then we decide that something really must be done about the confetti. And now, it is time for the Lord Jesus to return to the house oratory so we have an impromptu Eucharistic procession across the parking lot from the Cathedral to the house chapel. We have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, sing the Divine Mercy chaplet, and conclude with the Regina Coeli. Those who remain, now about ten, have a long period of good byes, and by 1:30 a.m. I am left with only the seminarian and his friend who are staying here. Of course, by this point we need more food. So it is over at 2 a.m. Christ is risen, and his priest has gone to bed -- at last!

12 April 2009

Something Strange Is Happening


Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve.

The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: "My Lord be with you all." Christ answered him: "And with your spirit." He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

(An ancient homily from Holy Saturday. Office of Readings)

03 April 2009

See What I Mean?

In response to a blunt commentary on the Church in the Vanderbilt student newspaper sparked by the Pope's comments on condoms, Cristina Villarreal, the chair of the Vandy+Catholic board, wrote this:

"This past month, Pope Benedict XVI made his first papal visit to Africa, highlighting the message of 'Christ and the good news of his Cross, the mystery of supreme love' in the continent where HIV/AIDS has hit the hardest. His reiteration of the church’s opposition to condom use as a method of prevention of the transmission of HIV has sparked controversy but also provides a good opportunity for us to look at the facts surrounding the issue."

Hit the link to read it all. See why I love my job?

02 April 2009

Thank You JPII

JP2, pray for us

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II.

Prayer for the intercession 
of Pope John Paul II:

O Holy Trinity,
we thank you for having given to the Church
Pope John Paul II,
and for having made him shine with Your Fatherly tenderness,
the glory of the Cross of Christ and the splendor of the Spirit of love.

He, trusting completely in Your infinite mercy
and in the maternal intercession of Mary, has shown himself
in the likeness of Jesus the Good Shepherd
and has pointed out to us holiness
as the path to reach eternal communion with You.

Grant us, through his intercession,
according to Your will, the grace that we implore,
in the hope that he will soon be numbered among Your saints.