31 August 2009

Jesus on campus

As a college chaplain, I have grown committed to the engagement of the Church in college life. I am convinced that college campuses are uniquely important places for Jesus Christ to be in His fullness. The Catholic Church offers that fullness of Jesus Christ in the world today, preeminently in the Blessed Sacrament. (My secret ambition is to help foster a diocesean campus ministry program -- shh! Don't tell the Bishop just yet!) I really like college campuses, not just ones like Vanderbilt, where I am now.

Anyhow, I recently spent a little free time on the campuses on Fisk University and Tennessee State University. Both are historically African American universities -- Fisk being one of the most historic African American universities in the country. Both are located within blocks of Vanderbilt. On the other side of campus is Belmont University. Throughout the city and around the diocese are many more campuses, with young people coming to form their lives. How can we fail to be there for them?

I am very blessed here at Vanderbilt with an amazing student organization and with FOCUS missionaries. They are the most effective apostles on campus -- much more so than I am. But I hope I say this without pride: I believe that I am necessary. There needs to be a priest in campus ministry for it to reach its full potential. This is one of the reasons we need more priests because not only Vanderbilt but Fisk, and TSU, and Belmont, and MTSU, and Tennessee Tech, and Sewanee, etc. need some degree of priestly presence on campus! I believe that it is no coincidence that Vanderbilt not only has a priest on campus but also the most vibrant student and lay campus ministry as well.

We actually need more priests for so many of our various Catholic apostolates to flourish as they should. Why? A faithful priest brings Jesus in a way that no one else can. With Jesus, especially in the sacraments, all other apostolic work can flourish. Without Him in that fullness, not so much.

So I look around at some of the brightest and best young men that there are today, and I cry out for you to ask the Lord if He is calling you to be one of His priests. St. Francis Xavier looked around in his day at some of the brightest and best at the University of Paris and ignited the hearts of many of them with apostolic zeal for souls. Not that I compare myself to St. Francis Xavier, but perhaps the voice of the Good Shepherd will speak to the souls of young men even through so weak a vessel! Maybe Jesus wants to make Himself present through you. It's not such a bad idea!

30 August 2009

From the inside out

In the gospel for today, the Lord reminds us that we live from the inside out. That is a hard lesson for us to accept. For good or bad, we tend to obsess on externals: what we say, what we do, and how we are perceived. We try to change and manage these externals. Sometimes we can pull it off. Some people are very effective at it. Basically in our society the ability to manage externals has a lot to do with success.

Many of us are not so good at managing externals. We become frustrated because we cannot manage them. The Lord is giving us other counsel. We should first be concerned with what is inside. Do I really love the truth? Do I really want the good? Am I willing to face the selfishness inside of me? Goodness will flow from a heart in love with the One who good. Reverence will flow from the heart that is in wonder of the creator. Truth will flow from the lips of one who knows the One who is true.

Externals are important as the overflow of a heart transformed on the inside. This is called integrity. This is why there really is no reasonable separation between public and private life. We may be able to do good things for a time as an external show, but we need to be more than good performers. Surely we want to be more.

29 August 2009

Order and Change

I am finding myself longing for the order of routine! It is great to make new beginnings, but it is disruptive to ordinary life. Here at Vandy+Catholic, there have been non-stop changes and new beginnings since the middle of the summer.

We essentially have a new home. The Frassati House, thanks to the generosity of Bishop Choby, is Vandy+Catholic's full-time and exclusive home. We a chapel, office space, meeting space, study space, a kitchen and dining areas, and even a small back yard! This has caused another change in that I now live at the Cathedral rectory. We still have a lot of settling in to do, but we are here.

There are also new people. Three of our four FOCUS missionaries are new. Our music team has new leadership. We have lots of new students leaders for more activities. And, of course, the new students!

There are new times, in particular the new Sunday Mass time of 5 p.m. in addition to 9 p.m. Mass. I am hopeful that this time will be better for more students than the old 11:30 a.m. time. I did not make this change lightly, but I am hopeful that we can serve the campus better this way. There are also a good many practical reasons why the change seemed advisable. We will also have a new time for confession on Wednesday nights. I hope that this will provide a more relaxed time for the celebration of this sacrament.

28 August 2009


Working in a place of amazing intellectual achievement, I certainly wonder at the accomplishments of the human intellect and will. These achievements are certainly proof for the validity of secularity. It is possible to know more things and to make things better.

I am even more amazed by the fact that we try to achieve. Why do we want to know more? Why do we want things to be better? This daring to upset the complacency of nature seems to me to be a proof of the validity of the transcendent.

We know there is more. We want to be more. How and why?

A woman's perogative ...

Amy Welborn is back -- never gone -- whatever: Charlotte Was Both

25 August 2009

Evangelical Catholics

Wowza! I cannot believe the explosion of Catholic life at Vanderbilt. Over 20 students returned to campus a week early for a leadership retreat last week. Of course, it helped that it was at a beautiful cabin on Tims Ford Lake! We were "praying up" and preparing for the new students to arrive on campus.

Then there was move-in day itself, with everyone promoting "Moonlit Mass" at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday. It was the only time for us to get Mass in for the freshmen their first weekend on campus so we did it! It was beautiful, reverent, and well-attended.

We have met new transfer students, new graduate students, new Belmont students, etc. Yesterday, there was "Sports Mania" on Wyatt Lawn which included Ultimate Frisbee playing Dominican Sisters! What else can be happening?

18 August 2009

Dante in the Blogsphere!

I have just encountered the greatest blog endeavor, ever. The Cranky Professor is blogging his way through Dante! Read it everyday. No matter what. He is the best read person I have ever met, as well as my best friend. I consider this inspiration practically a vocation for him and his greatest achievement -- until he writes his guide to Rome. You will learn a lot and have fun. Every educated person needs to read Dante. Most of us need help doing so. Here it is.

15 August 2009

Goodbye, Amy!

Although I am not much of a blogger, I do recognize a good one on matters Catholic when I see one. Add to the fact that this particular blogger is a Vanderbilt alumna, and thus I feel the need to acknowledge the loss of Amy Welborn's presence in the blogsphere under any of the different blog names and sites she has used.

Maybe this means she will be willing to consider a visit to her alma mater in Nashville ...

09 August 2009


Sorry for blogging and general "lameness." I am stuck in the middle of moves and the resulting chaos. But all is for the good!

Soon the Frassati House will be Vandy+Catholic's home, and mine will be in the Cathedral rectory across the alley. A bit of professionalism on the one hand and a bit of privacy on the other are not bad results!

Be looking for updates and announcements about the fall schedule on the web site. I'll preview one here today. "Fiat" and "Esto Vir" are being revamped as formation groups for women and for men. This will involve weekly morning gatherings for prayer and formation in a spiritual plan of life. Be ready to "set out into the deep!"

05 August 2009

Prayer and Love

In yesterday's Office of Readings, St. John Vianney recommended prayer and love. There is nothing very newsworthy in that: Guess what, a saint recommends prayer! And yet, I think that if more people would follow his recommendation we would not see a news report that 10% of Americans are on antidepressants. That is a lot of people who feel depressed.

Here is my prescription. Pray for at least 10 minutes in the morning. I will amplify that a bit. Pray with your thoughts -- "mental prayer" -- by allowing yourself to be in God's presence and staying there, beginning with 10 minutes a day. A good way to do this is to pray by thinking about a Gospel text, perhaps the Gospel of the day. Allow the time to increase as you get used to it, up to 30 minutes. Most importantly, do it every day! In the morning.

04 August 2009

August 4

Today is the feast of St. John Vianney. He is the patron saint of parish priests and the particular patron of this year of the priesthood. So today please pray for priests -- including for me!

One of the points from St. John Vianney's life that I believe it is important for priests to remember is how much the devil hated him. Of course, the devil hates everything that God has made. The devil particularly hates priests because they have the means of dispensing grace and mercy so widely, and the devil really hates grace and mercy. This particular hatred of the devil is one of the reasons, I believe, that we priests find ourselves in trouble so often -- not only big trouble, which is too often the case, but trouble with little sins and failures, which often do just as well to keep people away from the grace and mercy that we could be giving: the petty preference, the small indulgence, the unchecked word in anger or exasperation. These small sins of priests often drive others away. The devil loves to trip us up. That is one of the reasons he hated St. John Vianney so much: his normal method of tripping up a priest, temptation, didn't work very well with the Cure. So the devil resorted to much cruder methods to show his hatred openly as seen in the physical torments St. John Vianney endured from the devil. The devil usually prefers not to show himself, but he was so frustrated by the mercy flowing from the confessional of Ars that could not control himself!

I am not suggesting that I can use Flip Wilson's old excuse: "the devil made me do it." But I do think that we priests should recognize the devil's hand in the little exceptions we might be tempted to make for ourselves. See the ugly hand that offers them and turn away quickly! Unfortunately, the devil is not so frustrated by me. I pray that someday he will be.

03 August 2009

Jill and Kevin's wedding

I have seen the video from this wedding posted and commented on favorably on so many sites that I finally have to comment in the negative. (I'm not posting it here -- if you want to see it, you will have to find it for yourself.) I love the music and the dancing. It is fun and joyful. It would have been delightful at the reception. It does not belong in church.

At one of the most splendid ceremonies that I have seen recently, the final profession of the Dominican Sisters of Nashville, the homilist began by making a provocative point. He had the audacity to tell these beautiful and generous young women that this day and this ceremony were not about them! Can you believe it? He said that it was all about Jesus. Who does he think he is? Well, he is actually the Theologian to the Pontifical Household -- the Pope's theologian. And he is right. Someone needed to tell the same thing to this wedding party.

I suppose that it is possible for a dance to be directed to the glory of God, but it would be a rare thing. I think that this accounts for the Church's hesitation about liturgical dance. Certainly the dancing at this wedding was about self-expression, and that is why it is wrong in church. It's not about us. It's about Him.