31 December 2009

FOCUS Conference Post #1

Well, I'm in Orlando for the national FOCUS conference. We left Nashville at 2 a.m. yesterday morning. Was that yesterday? Wowza. I basically slept through Georgia. More or less. Waking up for good at Valdosta. (It is incredible to believe that I was in the Val d'Aosta back in the summer. Go figure. I didn't realize that I had become a priest to become a world traveler.)

Long bus trips are purgatorial, although they do have a certain charm. This one was good as they go! I understand the attraction of Florida, at least for a time. The weather is so pleasant.

The conference started last night, and just to make sure that we did not forget that we are in campus ministry the opening Mass was at 9:45 p.m.

The next part of the craziness of my schedule is my fault. I am in Orlando, although actually at the airport to fly to Tulsa, OK for a wedding. What am I thinking? I will return on Saturday for the rest of the FOCUS conference. But no bus trip home for me. I have another conference to attend here, and then I will fly back. Pray for me. I guess this is what God wants me to do!

26 December 2009

Bishop Olmsted on "Serving Truth in the University"

Here is an letter on the mission of the Church in higher education by Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix. I knew that Bishop Olmsted was becoming interested in campus ministry because I received a call from one of his priests inquiring about FOCUS just after Thanksgiving. I think very highly of the good Bishop of Phoenix since my days in seminary when he was on the faculty and later served as rector at the Pontifical College Josephinum.

I am gratified to hear what Bishop Olmsted has to say. The Church's mission to the University is not a matter of "Mass and pizza." His words are a nice shot in the arm as we head off to the FOCUS conference.

22 December 2009

A Vandy+Catholic Monk

Br. Cassian is a Vanderbilt graduate of 2002 and a monk of St. Louis Abbey. He has been generous in abandoning the refuge of his monastic enclosure for the good of souls at a number of Vandy Awakening retreats. I am not sure if I can think of a religious event less conducive to monastic recollection than an Awakening retreat, but Br. Cassian is "all in" when he comes! Pray for him on the day of his Solemn Profession.

The Abbey runs the Priory School in St. Louis. A number of our finest Vandy+Catholic gentlemen are alums, including Br. Cassian himself.

21 December 2009

Home to Tennessee

I did make it home, actually on time yesterday. My bag did not. I had not intended to check my bag because it would have cost extra -- I didn't realize that Southwest does fly to Boston. I checked it at the gate because the plane was so full. For good measure, I stuffed my overcoat in the bag too...my overcoat with my house and car keys in the pocket. Oops!

United basically said that the bag would be found in the first 24 hours...or not. I called after about 12 hours. The bag had made it to O'Hare, but there was no trace of it since. Not very consoling. They threw in a $150 travel voucher. Somewhat consoling. But I still did not have my car keys.

At 25 hours, I received a call saying that my bag was on the way to the Frassati House. I am eagerly waiting for it now! Happy ending, I hope. We'll see if the driver can find 2004 Terrace Place.

20 December 2009

Cultural Experience

I have been having a cultural experience this weekend! I have been in Boston (for the first time in my life) for a wedding. I should have realized that being a university chaplain would involve me in more weddings and that at a university like Vanderbilt weddings would involve travel. At New Years, for example, I have a wedding in Tulsa.

So I have been in the land of the bean and the cod for the weekend -- and this paricular weekend also the land of snow. Boston is having a nor'easter (?) It's a lot of snow for this Southern boy.

The occasion was the wedding of Kyle and Liz Ludvik (nee Ellis), one of the first FOCUS missionaries at Vanderbilt. That's Liz in the picture above in the foreground, with some friends! What a cultural experience it must have been for her to come to Nashville. For someone who had been so generous in giving of herself at Vanderbilt, I had to make the effort to come to her wedding.

I became emotional at the wedding thinking about the generosity of these young people. There were many FOCUS missionaries and former missionaries present. Colleen McCarron, the best musician ever, was singing. There were Liz's Catholic friends from Williams. And the wonderful and hearty Nebraska Catholics on the groom's side. The Catholic Church is alive and "alove." I kept thinking what good was being done for the love of God by all these lovely young people. I thank God for letting me be a part of it all.

We'll see if I can get back to Tennessee!

17 December 2009

The Dictatorship of Relativism

The Pope from the Wednesday Audience on John of Salisbury:

While other discussions taken up in this work are tied to the historical circumstances in which it was written, the theme of the relationship between natural law and a positive-juridical ordering, arbitrated by equity, is still today of great importance. In our times, in fact, above all in certain countries, we witness a worrying separation between reason, which has the task of discovering the ethical values linked to the dignity of the human person, and liberty, which has the responsibility of welcoming and promoting these values. Perhaps John of Salisbury would remind us today that only those laws are equitable that protect the sanctity of human life and reject the legalization of abortion, euthanasia and limitless genetic experimentation, those laws that respect the dignity of matrimony between a man and a woman, that are inspired in a correct secularity of state -- secularity that always includes the protection of religious liberty -- and that pursue subsidiarity and solidarity at the national and international level.

If not, what John of Salisbury calls the "tyranny of the sovereign" or, what we would call "the dictatorship of relativism," ends up taking over -- a relativism that, as I recalled some years ago, "recognizes nothing as definitive and that has as its measure only the self and its desires" (Misa pro eligendo Romano Pontifice, homily, April 19, 2005).

In my most recent encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate," addressing men and women of good will, who endeavor to ensure that social and political action is never disconnected from the objective truth about man and his dignity, I wrote: "Truth, and the love which it reveals, cannot be produced: they can only be received as a gift. Their ultimate source is not, and cannot be, mankind, but only God, who is himself Truth and Love. This principle is extremely important for society and for development, since neither can be a purely human product; the vocation to development on the part of individuals and peoples is not based simply on human choice, but is an intrinsic part of a plan that is prior to us and constitutes for all of us a duty to be freely accepted" (No. 52).

This plan that is prior to us, this truth of being, we should seek and welcome, so that justice is born. But we can find it and welcome it only with a heart, a will and reason purified in the light of God.

13 December 2009


St. John the Baptist and St. Paul today seem to be giving a recipe for joy: repentance and prayer. Repent to get back into the presence of God, and pray in order to stay there. God is the only adequate source of joy for a person. It is really true.

I have been experiencing such profound joy since my move into the rectory of the Cathedral, which is across the alley from the Frassati House, where I used to live. The priests who live in the rectory have agreed to a time for Morning Prayer together, and I have set my holy hour around this common prayer. It has helped me to be more regular in my prayer, and I am literally so happy for it. My duties and pressures have not changed otherwise, but I have changed. There is more joy.

10 December 2009

Thanks for Mercy!

Last night, we had our first-ever penance service. I "push" confessions all the time, but usually before or after Mass or in conjunction with a retreat. I did not know what we were getting in for with this service -- would anybody come? I was happy we did it and will try it again in Lent.

The coming together to seek mercy together is a good experience and a great context for individual sacramental confession. Come, Lord Jesus!

09 December 2009

Read this!

Pope Benedict at the Piazza di Spagna.

Something like I wanted to say...

I just read an article on the Immaculate Conception that said something like what I wanted to say yesterday in my homily. So in case the homily did not make much sense, go here. I like the point that this doctrine is more understandable if one works back to it from the Incarnation.

Well, tomorrow is the last day of classes here. Then exam begin. This is a very stressful time for the students. I have been having lots of conversations as well about plans for the future with students preparing to graduate and move beyond the predictable path of academic life.

Also, I have been receiving more requests than usual for prayer from students about deaths and sicknesses in their families. I received a request for prayer from a new Navy Ensign, a graduate from last year, about the serious troubles of one of her sailors. Life gets more complicated, not less so. The darkness of this world seems pretty dark at times. It does not help that here it is literally dark at about 4:30 p.m. at this time of year and that it was deeply gloomy and rainy yesterday.

The Immaculate Conception is a sign pointing to the hope of this world, which is precisely the Incarnation -- the fact that God has come into this very world in human flesh to give human flesh a new beginning. The Immaculate Conception shows us what God can and will do for us: perfection not outside but in our humanity. He thought it was worth dying for. Let's say "fiat" to that: be it done unto me...

08 December 2009

Calm at Frassati House

Let me renew the invitation to Frassati House as a great study location, especially during exams. It is generally calm. The Blessed Sacrament is here -- Jesus! And a huge Christmas tree. Come decorate tonight, if you wish!

06 December 2009

Comments on Adderall

OK. The Vanderbilt Hustler website is still down. The conspiracy-theory side of me thinks that the university administration must have something to do with this. It cannot look good that a large percentage of your students resorts to drugs to deal with academic pressures.

So here are my thoughts. They are not exhaustive, just what seemed noteworthy to me. The first is the prevalence of the drug use, either legal or illegal. There has got to be a better way to cope. I think that I know one. No, not that Jesus is going to help you to to stay up later to finish a paper, but that the awareness of being a child of God should help the whole process either with encouraging behaviors that lead to a good outcome or with the ability to deal with a bad outcome. I was rather amazed at how the student health representative didn't seem to think that all this drug use is a big deal.

My other impression is one that makes me really sad. One of the students quoted in the article says that he does sell his prescription pills but only to "friends." That makes me really sad, not about the drug use but about the concept of friendship. Selling pills to friends. What kind of friendship is that? What does friendship mean to this young man? It doesn't sound like any kind of friendship that is worthy of the name. If anything, give your friends the pills. That act, however unwise, at least has some shred of humanity to it. With friends like this ...

I guess that my take on this issue is that there is a serious need to help these students find authentic support for the real pressures of life. Adderall is not it. And, I have to say, that the "grown ups" quoted in the articles didn't offer much inspiration for living the "good life." Their responses were muddled and really not very helpful to stressed out and isolated students. The source of the "good life" comes from the source of life itself.

05 December 2009

Lost Breviary and Adderall

Yesterday, I had lost my breviary. Or maybe it is better to say "misplaced." This is serious business. I have taken a vow to pray the Divine Office for the Church. It was a very unsettling experience. Not so much the misplacing: I do that all the time. One priest friend says that he can always tell when I have been to visit him because I always leave something behind. It was unsettling to be without my breviary. Fortunately, my brother priest at the Cathedral rectory, Fr. Zach, found it. I had left it in the ambo at the Cathedral where I had used it in my homily the night before, quoting from St. Francis Xavier about "more learning than charity." That's not a usual place for my breviary.

I think that my condition is probably diagnosable, especially if I were younger when I also used to jump off refrigerators, etc. I am very scattered and disorganized. I mess up numbers all the time: I practically cannot write down a phone number correctly much less remember one, for example. Yesterday, there was a very impressive piece of journalism in the Vanderbilt newspaper, The Vanderbilt Hustler. (I would provide a link, but their site seems to be down. I'm not surprised after this issue.) Practically the whole issue was on the drug "Adderall." I had never focused on this topic before. (This is one of the things that I love about my job: being introduced to totally new social realities.) Anyhow, it is a look at yet another strangeness of our culture, in this case the largely illegal use of a drug for performance enhancement in an intellectual setting. I think that you might hear more from me on this, when I have had a chance to digest more of the articles.

Thanks to St. Anthony and Fr. Zach for finding my breviary!

04 December 2009

Deeds, not sweet words

I don't want you to think that I have "gone soft." I have been reminded this week that love means "deeds, not sweet words," as the Lord reminded St. Josemaria. But love must be the source of the deeds, not pride, guilt, or ambition. Deeds springing from love. This is what is needed.

Yesterday in the Office of Readings, St. Francis Xavier spoke of those with more learning than charity. That is a real danger in the intellectual life. In the active apostolic life, there is a danger of more deeds than charity. But there is also the danger of few deeds because of little charity.

Lord, give me an increase in charity that I may do more for love of you!

03 December 2009


The Holy Father is talking about love again! This time in his Wednesday audience on William of Saint-Thierry, a theologian of the 11th century:
Striking is the fact that William, in speaking of the love of God, attributes notable importance to the emotional dimension. Indeed, dear friends, our heart is made of flesh, and when we love God, who is Love itself, how can we not express in this relationship with the Lord also our most human feelings, such as tenderness, sensitivity, delicacy? The Lord himself, becoming man, wished to love us with a heart of flesh!
Let us be tender, sensitive, and delicate in our relationship with God and our brothers and sisters.

01 December 2009


Here is what the Holy Father is saying about it:

The Holy Father reflected on the etymology of the word "advent" from the Latin adventus.

"With the word adventus an attempt was made essentially to say: God is here, he has not withdrawn from the world, he has not left us alone," he explained. "Although we cannot see or touch him, as is the case with tangible realities, he is here and comes to visit us in multiple ways."

The Pontiff added that the expression advent also includes "visitatio, which means simply and properly 'visit.'"

"In this case," he said, "it is a visit of God: He enters my life and wants to address me."

Taking time

Benedict XVI acknowledged that we all experience "having little time for the Lord and little time for ourselves."

"We end up by being absorbed in 'doing,'" he said. "Is it not true that often activity possesses us, that society with its many interests monopolizes our attention? Is it not true that we dedicate much time to amusements and leisure of different kinds? Sometimes things 'trap' us."

In this scenario, the Holy Father said, Advent "invites us to pause in silence to grasp a presence."

He continued: "It is an invitation to understand that every event of the day is a gesture that God directs to us, sign of the care he has for each one of us. How many times God makes us perceive something of his love! To have, so to speak, an 'interior diary' of this love would be a beautiful and salutary task for our life! Advent invites and stimulates us to contemplate the Lord who is present. Should not the certainty of his presence help us to see the world with different eyes? Should it not help us to see our whole existence as a 'visit,' as a way in which he can come to us and be close to us, in each situation?"

Advent is furthermore a time of joy, the Pontiff said.

It is "the time of the presence and the expectation of the eternal. Precisely for this reason it is, in a particular way, the time of joy, of an internalized joy, that no suffering can erase. Joy because of the fact that God became a child. This joy, invisibly present in us, encourages us to walk with confidence."

And this joy, he concluded, finds a model and support in the Virgin Mary, "through whom the Child Jesus has been given to us."

He prayed: "May she, faithful disciple of her Son, obtain for us the grace to live this liturgical time vigilant and diligent in waiting."

I have been wondering for some time what this blog is about. I think that I should make it a diary of the love of God, as the Holy Father suggests.