30 December 2010

Anna the Prophetess

The figure of Anna in the Gospel today is one that I find highly attractive. She was constantly in the Temple in prayer. How much better would we all be if we were more like Anna? How much better would the world be?

Here is the only resolution you need to make, if you do not do it already. Anything else is useless.

Stop and pray everyday. Set a time, and be faithful to it. Allow yourself to enter into the presence of God. That takes some time usually. Have something that will keep your mind focused: a passage of the Gospel is the best, according to the experts. Think about it: "mental prayer," get it? Let it lead you to God. What is God or the human author saying? What is God or the human author saying about Jesus? What is God or the human author saying about my life? What is God or the human author saying about Heaven?

Be with Him. Don't worry about distractions, dryness, etc.

Then keep in God's presence during the day with little reminders. Turn to Him first in joy or disappointment or questioning. Be recollected.

That's it.

26 December 2010

Holy Family

It would be easy to sentimentalize or to politicize about the feast of the Holy Family; but one thing we know is that God is not much into sentimentality or politics. Don't get me wrong, genuine sentiment can contribute passion for seeking the true and good; and politics is a way of putting the common good into practice. Nothing wrong there.

I want to propose that there is something more fundamental about the feast of the Holy Family: a mystery. As we contemplate the Holy Family we see God making us responsible for Him. The Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph were responsible for Jesus. What effect did this responsibility have on them? It made them love Him more!

On Christmas Eve, I was driving into Nashville from Ashland City where I had been with my father, who had just undergone eye surgery. I needed to get back to the city to prepare for the Midnight Mass at the Cathedral, where I was to be Master of Ceremonies for the Bishop's Mass. Those were the things on my mind. I received a phone call on the way ("in via" -- a favorite expression of mine right now) from a young man and new father. I had prepared him and his wife for marriage, celebrated their nuptial Mass, and even visited the hospital recently when their first child was born. He was asking me about their need to get to Mass for Christmas. At first, I took this call to be about the new (for him) but ordinary circumstance of how to get to Mass with a newborn. As the conversation went on, I realized that his situation was not ordinary. Both his wife and baby daughter were somewhat sickly, and I realized (too slowly) that he was asking for my help. So I told him that I would come by to bring them Holy Communion, since his wife and daughter did not need to get out and he needed to be with them. I realized that he was taking responsibility for them, and it was making him a better man and me a better priest! While at their home, I asked how the mother and child were doing. Finally I asked how he was doing. He said that he was doing better than ever, although with less sleep! He said, holding his tiny baby daughter in his arms, that he did not know that he could have loved his wife more than he had before; but he did. His baby daughter had changed everything about his life. This responsibility had changed him into a man who loved better and more.

This is what God does for us when he comes to us as a baby. We are responsible for Him. He comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament. We are responsible for Him. He comes to us in our vocations. We are responsible for Him. He comes to us in the poor, the sick, and all those in need. We are responsible for Him. This responsibility makes us love Him more. It makes us love more. Sometimes I hear people say that God is able to take care of Himself. That is not true. And that is a mystery!

21 December 2010

At Home

I am in Ashland City with my father who had eye surgery on Tuesday. He is recovering well. Since Vanderbilt is on "winter" break, it is nice to have the time to be with him without feeling pressure to be somewhere else. I have to confess to being somewhat lazy -- or maybe to put it more kindly, to being productive slowly!

I am thinking a lot about Christmas in a way that I have not done before. I hope that it is because I love Jesus more. One of our first FOCUS missionaries, PJ Butler, was in town for Charles and Erica Page's wedding last weekend; and he said that I seemed to love Jesus more. Boy, did that make me feel good!

Anyhow about Christmas: God is so amazing in trying to get us to love Him at His coming. For those who have some knowledge of God, His coming is likely to produce fear. Look at what the prophet Malachi said in the reading yesterday or what the store-front churches say today: Beware, He is coming! Then there is the attitude of those who do not know Him. They are unaware of His coming and could not care less if they did know. What is God to do?

Exactly what He did do -- to come in a way that inspires tender love: to come as a baby! He makes us responsible -- for Him!

I am reminded of a favorite and true story. Believe it or not, I had a parishioner in the little parish in Tennessee Ridge who was Japanese. She has a beautiful faith. Her conversion story is amazing. She was a little girl in the devastating aftermath of World War II in Japan. She was being raised by her Buddhist grandparents. Her mother came home one time, and told her a bed time story -- the story of the birth of Jesus. Where her mother had come across this story, she doesn't know. She remembered it as a beautiful story told to her by her mother, whom she did not see very often. But it had no religious significance for her. Years later, she was walking past a Catholic Church -- she lived near Nagasaki, where most Japanese Catholics are from. Outside of the church was a nativity scene. She stopped to look at it because she recognized it as the story that her mother had told her. The priest happened by and so he stopped and told her "the rest of the story." She was converted, and through her gentle faith so eventually were her grandparents and mother!

Do we ever look at Bethlehem with these eyes? Our God is that poor baby? Praise Him -- and love Him!

Hope

I know now that God will be faithful. That's hope pretty much.

So live it now. Minute to minute. Little things, big things.

Maybe I can get the hang of this. It is a habit, after all.

God willing. He does. Now I have confidence and joy.

17 December 2010

O

"O"

What more to say of the mystery of God made man?

From now until December 23, the Church puts this "O" on our lips (in the antiphon for the Magnificat at Evening Prayer and in the alleluia verse at Mass).

Today we say, "O Wisdom." Jesus in the flesh is the wisdom of God whom we can approach. There is no surer source of wisdom. Come to wisdom through Him.

Holy Mary, our hope and Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!

16 December 2010

Thanksgiving

Please join me in prayers of thanksgiving for an answer to a very special intention. I have asked many of you for your prayers recently. Thanks to you all who have been praying.

Don't stop just yet. There are details to attend to. I look forward to announcing the fruit of all of these prayers.

14 December 2010

Sewanee Vocations


Since we were just speaking of the University of the South, I thought that I would share with you this picture that I just received of three Sewanee alums in Rome last summer. We also met up with Fr. Benedict of Norcia, another alum, last summer. Not bad for Sewanee?

Advent.

Changing the World

Here is Pope Benedict's reflection on Sunday's Gospel in which St. John the Baptist from prison sends his disciples to ask Jesus: "Are you the one?"

"We have heard in the Gospel the question of the Baptist who finds himself in prison; the Baptist announced the coming of the Judge who changes the world, and now it feels as if the world has stayed the same. He makes his disciples ask Jesus: "Are you the one who must come? Or must we look for another? Are you he or must we look for another?" In the last two or three centuries many have asked: "But are you really the one? Or must the world be changed in a truly radical way? Are you not doing it?" And many prophets, ideologies and dictators have come and said: "It isn't him! He didn't change the world! We are the ones!" And they created their empires, their dictatorships, their totalitarianism that was supposed to change the world. And they changed it, but in a destructive way. Today we know that of these great promises there has only remained a great void and great destruction. They were not the ones.

And so we must again see Christ and ask Christ: "Are you the one?" The Lord, in the silent way that is characteristic of him, answers: "See what I have done. I did not start a bloody revolution, I did not change the world by force, but I lit many lights that form, in the meantime, a great path of light through the centuries."

Let us begin here, in our parish: St. Maximilian Kolbe, who offered to starve to death to save the father of a family. What a great light he became! What light has come from this figure and encouraged others to give themselves, to be near to the suffering, to the oppressed! Let us think of Damien de Veuster who was a father to the lepers. He lived and died with and for the lepers and thus brought light into this community. Let us think of Mother Teresa, who gave so much light to people, who, after a life without light, died with a smile, because they were touched by the light of God's love."

12 December 2010

YSR

I had a very pleasant day yesterday with the Vanderbilt FOCUS team. We try to have some sort of outing at the end of each semester just to have fun and be with each other. I am not sure if the outing yesterday was fun for the team, but it was for me.

Of course, any day on which one can be in the company of such incredibly holy young people is a great day. Tala, CeeCee, Frank, and Joe are so GOOD! And good in the truest sense of the word, not in some boring conventional way, but in the fullest way.

Anyhow, we went on an outing to Sewanee, Tennessee. I know it sounds exciting, doesn't it! Well, maybe not so much. But it is pretty, and it provided the time and setting for some wonderful talks. It was nice to be there with students busily studying, as opposed to partying.

It was a very relaxing day for me. I really wished to stay there. Sewanee is not the most exciting place in the world, but it is a place where there is quiet. One can think there, if one wishes. Of course, I am happy back in Nashville; but I do realize that I like a setting for thought. Of course, that setting really has to be within us. For me, entering that interior place will always be marked somehow by the Domain of the University of the South. Yea, Sewanee's Right!

09 December 2010

Breathe

Wow it is great to breathe. This semester is coming to an end, and it has been the best semester yet for me as chaplain of Vanderbilt Catholic. So far, I feel that I have been trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. I have looked at what several dynamic campus ministries are doing and have borrowed good ideas from them. Now I think that I am beginning to see what it should all look like at Vanderbilt. There are unique features to every university. This is how I see things developing.

Vanderbilt Catholic is a "house" of formation for the students of the university. This formation is for the entire person: spiritual, intellectual, human, and apostolic. As a Catholic ministry, we offer spiritual formation. We worship God and receive His grace in prayer and sacraments. Mass is central to our life, whether it is in our own community or at the Cathedral. The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is offered and received generously. Students are also prepared for and receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, and Matrimony. Vanderbilt Catholic fosters prayer. We have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every Wednesday and Sunday, our house chapel is always available, students gather for Compline on campus, etc. Spiritual direction is offered individually, and there are formation groups and Bible studies. Retreats open the door for spiritual formation and sustain it.

Intellectual formation has two approaches. The first is to offer the students a systematic way to deepen the understanding of their faith at the intellectual level at which they operate in the other areas of the university. This requires dynamic instruction and systematic planning. We are beginning a curriculum that is engaging and accessible to the students: iFacts. We also want to equip the students to bring the insights of Christian faith into their secular studies. The example of Catholic faculty members on Faculty Fridays has been very edifying. Although the most pressing need is in the area of ethics in various fields, the Church's contribution to secular learning is not confined to ethics. Catholicism operates on philosophical understandings of the human person, of knowledge itself, etc. that inform all intellectual activity.

Human formation means virtue. The students need encouragement in developing the habits of virtue that lead to successful living. Certain areas are especially pressing, in particular those relating to finding and living out Christian vocations. How do I live in college so as to prepare myself for and respond to God's call for me? This requires attention to all the virtues and especially to the greatest of them: love. Love is in the details of life. Human formation partakes of all the rest. It is lived out from the most sublime to the most ordinary. A Frassati House party is just as much a part of human formation as a silent retreat.

Apostolic formation certainly has a formal element to it. We try to schedule opportunities for corporal and spiritual works of mercy. If possible, time to prepare and to reflect on the works adds to the formation. Even more essential for apostolic formation than works, however, are hearts aflame for souls in imitation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The FOCUS missionaries are the secret weapon of apostolic formation most powerfully in their witness alone, before they ever do anything. I hope that the students will be apostolic is their classes and dorms as well as on mission trips.

I am very grateful for this vision of formation. I hope to help Vanderbilt Catholic give this vision life in the lives of wonderful students.

07 December 2010

05 December 2010

Civil Discourse

I have finally figured out what is wrong with the article in the Slant, other than it is JUST WRONG to treat anyone that way.

Frannie proposed ideas. Her adversary responded not by saying that he disagreed with her ideas and then argued his ideas. He said that he disliked her ideas and that he disliked her, rather viciously. This is not the sort of civil discourse that a university should promote. Unpopular ideas need to be given room for expression, without fear of intimidation.

If such intimidation is not checked, then we will be left only with articles of the intellectual merit of discussing the Lambda Chi Watermelon Smash.

04 December 2010

Meaning

"Love is our Lord's meaning." I have a feeling that I am going to be wrestling with this one for a while. For me, things have to mean something real. Maybe that is not the case for everyone. I don't know. I really don't like artificial things. Flowers have to be real. Candles have to be real. Fake stuff is just fake stuff. A fake flower could just as well be a fake skunk. But a flower is a flower. It means "flower" not "glob of plastic shaped in a certain way." PR, management, high liturgy, etc. are all fine as long as they have something real behind them and are not like the advertisements for some fancy unbuilt buildings on West End that mask a big hole in the ground. The "sacramentum" of liturgy is awesome so long as the "res" is really there.

So what is the meaning of my faith, what makes it real and not artificial? Well, Dame Julian proposes that it is love (not great deeds, popularity, big programs, etc.) because that is what Jesus "means." I believe that St. Paul and a few others have had much the same idea! I have to confess that I have not really lived in a way that demonstrates that I understand that meaning. To some extent, I have put up pretty signs about love; but they mask a big hole rather than reveal a reality.

All must be charity, not just enough window dressing to get people to "buy it." Actually if all really were charity, it is very likely that few would buy it. Marketing, after all, sells. Enough for now -- more later, I'm sure.

03 December 2010

Too Much

This is too much. Please call, write, etc. to the Dean of Students at Vanderbilt that this treatment of a student is not acceptable.

Mark Bandas
310 Sarratt Student Center
615.322.6400

deanofstudents@vanderbilt.edu

Hey -- Sorry for the Gloom!

Looking back at the last few posts, it seems pretty gloomy around here! Can you tell that I am preaching to myself? No mystery there. But really, I could not be happier about what is going on here -- at Vandy Catholic and in my heart. But there is a mystery to it as well. I have got to get used to that.

Wow -- today's Gospel is such a help. "'Let it be done for you according to your faith.' And their eyes were opened." And the first reading isn't so bad either: "Those who err in spirit shall acquire understanding." "Out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see."

OK, OK -- I have been blind.

I was just praying upstairs in the little chapel in Frassati House. Out the window, I could see the slightest sliver of the moon. The Blessed Mother reached out in that faint reflected light to comfort and to correct me. She emerges radiant, calling me from gloom. She says: "Just turn a little, and you will face the Sun like I do."

02 December 2010

"All Shall Be Well"

Yesterday, the Pope taught about Julian of Norwich, an English mystic. Here is all that the Vatican has posted in English:

"Our catechesis today deals with Julian of Norwich, an English mystic and anchoress of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Julian is best known for her book, Revelations of Divine Love, which recounts sixteen visions or “showings” which she received during a grave illness. The Revelations are centred on the love of Christ; in Julian’s own words: “love is our Lord’s meaning”. They exude an optimism grounded in the certainty that we are loved by God and protected by his providence; as Julian says, in speaking of God’s power to bring good out of evil: “all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well”. Julian’s mysticism echoes the prophet Isaiah in using the imagery of a mother’s love to describe the affectionate care which God shows for his children, culminating in the incarnation of his Son and the fulfilment of his promises. Like so many holy women in every age, in spite of her withdrawal from the world Julian became a much-sought spiritual guide. In our own lives, may we draw profit from her teaching that God is the love which transforms our lives, bringing joy and peace to our hearts and, through us, to those all around us."

This melacholic needs her faithful optimism! Don't you love: "love is our Lord's meaning"? Meaning. We have to have meaning. And love is it.

01 December 2010

"the Waiting of God"

Yup, that's what Pope Benedict said. God waits. What does God wait for? He waits for you. How can God wait? Well, that's the question. How can God wait and still be God? Of course, Jesus in His sacred humanity waited. It is part of the experiential knowledge of His human nature to know waiting: we wait. But I believe that Pope Benedict means something more than this. God the Father waits. The Holy Spirit waits. The Eternal Word waits. The Blessed Trinity waits. Doesn't waiting require a subject who awaits fulfillment and is therefore not godlike? God would not be God, if He were not fulfilled already. We can only say that God waits because He chooses to. It is an expression of His perfection that He can make Himself wait. (I am sorry, but I can't go much further than that. You will need someone holier and wiser that I am for that.) Of course, what He waits for will in no way add to His perfection, and yet He chooses to wait for us and for our sake alone. He waits because He wants us to wait, to choose, to long, to endure. To love.

Pope Benedict compares God's waiting to the waiting of the Blessed Virgin. Of course, our waiting should be like hers. What's it like?

Well, she, like God, chooses to wait. The most common comment that I received from yesterday's post had to do with choosing to wait. Y'all said to me: "OK, Father, I can see the beauty of waiting; but I don't have to choose it." Well, yes, you do. Because He does, and she did. We get to choose to wait, not just have to wait. Waiting is another of the disguises of love -- and of the best kind of love, sacrificial love. Stoicism will not do here -- "I will like waiting with my teeth clinched and fists curled." Nope. That won't do. Well, it will do, if it is the best that you can do; but God will wait for you to do better! The Blessed Virgin did not "white knuckle" the waiting for 30 years! She loved it instead, hard as it was. His "hour" had to come.

Think of all the things we can do in the waiting. The little loving that proves a great love. Let's do it.

30 November 2010

On Waiting

I passed this quotation on to a couple of you yesterday, and it really made the rounds from what I understood. I think that the Pope touched a chord that resonates with you. I can understand that. You are actually waiting to see what God has in store for you: in life, in love, etc. right down to the details of daily living.

Could I propose that we make this waiting incarnational and sacramental? I think that is what the Church has in mind in giving us the season of Advent. Life goes on as we wait, but it is rather subdued. We take a break, for example, from the waiting room to grab a bite in the hospital cafeteria, but we don't go to a fancy restaurant. We don't even want to. Waiting makes us sober.

If we try to live incarnational waiting, that is, if we try to keep Advent, then we run up against the frantic frivolity of the world, especially at this time of year. I really don't know what the answer is. To the extent that we can, let's keep waiting. Here is an old rule for Advent: "parties are not consonant with the Advent season." Isn't that cool? There is a lack of resonance in parties when we are trying to wait. They are discordant with the major theme of waiting.

Why does the world party while we wait? We have something (really someOne) to wait for. The world doesn't. They have to grab "it" (whatever "it" is in the situation) while they can. Why do we wait for all kind of things? Because we have hope -- we know that the wait will be fulfilled. Our world has no hope. The people of the world do not have the assurance that anything will be there at the end of the wait -- so why do it? We know for whom we are waiting so we can and want to wait.

Hope not only assures fulfillment of the wait, but it makes the wait itself beautiful. Waiting is like a majestic procession to a magnificent goal. It is the almost unbearably beautiful building of tension awaiting blessed resolution. It is one movement with the fulfillment.

This is why we wait for Christmas, for marriage, for first communion, for friendship, for death, for birth, for forgiveness, for joy. For Jesus.

Waiting

On the first Sunday of Advent, Pope Benedict spoke on waiting (I will comment in the next post):
I'd like to dwell briefly on this suggestive theme of "waiting," as it speaks to a profoundly human aspect, in which faith becomes, so to say, one with our flesh and our hearts.

Waiting -- standing by -- is a dimension that crosses all of our existence: personal, family and social. This waiting is found in a thousand situations, from those little, everyday ones all the way to the most important things, those which completely, deeply, wrap us up. Among these, let us think of the waiting for a child by a couple; those of a relative or friend who comes to visit us from afar; let us think, for a young person, of the waiting for the result of an important test, or a job interview; in emotional relationships, of the waiting for one's encounter with their beloved, of the response to a letter, or the acceptance of an apology... It could be said that man is alive while he waits, that in his heart hope is alive. And from these waitings man comes to know himself: our moral and spiritual "stature" can be measured by that for which we wait, by that in which we hope.

Each of us, then, especially in this time that prepares us for Christmas, can ask ourselves: what am I waiting for? What, in this moment of my life, reaches out of my heart? This same question can place itself in the context of family, of community, of nation. What do we wait for, together? What unites our hopes, what do we share? In the time preceding the birth of Jesus, so strong in Israel was the anticipation of the Messiah, of the Sacred One, descendant of King David, who would finally liberate the people from their moral and political slavery and inaugurate the Kingdom of God. But no one would ever have imagined that the Messiah could be born of a humble girl like Mary, betrothed to the just man Joseph. Neither had she thought of it, though in her heart the waiting for the Savior was so great, her faith and her hope so ardent, that He could find in her a worthy mother. From the first, God himself prepared her, even from before the ages. There is a mysterious correspondence between the waiting of God and that of Mary, the creature "full of grace," totally transparent to the design of the Most High's love. Let us learn from her, the Lady of Advent, to live our daily duties with a new spirit, with the sense of a profound waiting, one only the coming of God can quench.

28 November 2010

Happy New Year!

I guess it comes from being a melancholic, but I love Advent, the first blasts of winter, exams, and the general gloom that settles in about now. I think it is because there is a longing to it all, the longing that makes life sweet for me. It reminds me that better days are yet to come. I don't really know what I would do if I lived in a place like southern California with practically unrelenting good weather and the resulting cheer.

I particularly love being here on campus as exams are grinding on. Day by day, the campus empties. The illusion of permanence is shattered. People go home. As Christmas draws especially near, even the Medical Center is like a ghost town. I like to wander through the campus then. It is such an image of the mutability of this world and a promise of the immutability of Heaven.

I had another reason for loving exam time when I was in school. It was not because I was ready for exams. I never was: it would always be a time of near panic. But it had focus. If ADD had been invented when I was a child, I am sure that I would have had it. I have a very hard time dealing with a multiplicity of things. But give me one thing, and I can do it. It is one of the reasons that I take tests well. It is the only thing that I have to do then. During exams, I literally would go from one thing to the next. It was great.

And so I will get to the point, which is not to bore you with my eccentricities! These are two of the perfections of God that I long for the most: immutability and unity. I don't expect everyone to understand or agree with me. We do need all the happy sanguines, who love the multiplicity of things, and the driven cholerics, who are out to change the world. We really do, and I love them for what they have that I don't. But to me, there is a beauty in the thought of entering into rest from unrelenting change and rest from trying to hold it all together, most particularly myself. (If you are interested in psychology, you can probably tell what a lot of my struggles are from the desires of my heart for these perfections of God.) We are all clinging to God in our own ways: the sanguine perhaps because He is Trinity and the choleric because He is creator. But for all of us, He is savior. Come, Lord Jesus.

24 November 2010

No News

The reporting in the press about the Church's teaching about condoms is not news. There is nothing new. The Church can only teach what is good. In the case of human sexuality, the good is the virtue of chastity. That is what the Church teaches. If someone is determined to do evil, the Church counsels making choices to mitigate the evil. This is the idea behind the expression: "the lesser of two evils." The Church can never teach that it is good for an unmarried persons to use a condom because it is never good for unmarried persons to have sexual relations. The Church cannot teach that infidelity or contraception within marriage is ever good, and so the Church can never say that the use of condoms in marriage is ever good. If, however, someone is determined to do evil -- to be unchaste -- the Church has always counseled the individual to mitigate the evil he is doing. The Church seems to be saying that use of a condom might be such a mitigation. But the Church cannot propose the use of condoms as a way to slow the spread of AIDS. The way that the Church teaches for that is the same for everyone, all the time: the virtue of chastity.

20 November 2010

Maybe it's a good thing...

The last post got me reflecting on the way that the priesthood seems to be discerned these days. The varied need for priests makes me want to be like St. Francis Xavier and go running around the university shouting at the top of my lungs that there are souls that need you! Come on! I try not to think very much about young men discerning the priesthood because I get too emotionally involved, and I end up having a negative effect on them. A crazy man running around shouting has that effect on people. But sometimes I can't help myself! I want them to be loved as I am loved.

These days a devout young Catholic man can say that he is thinking about doing almost anything, and everyone says what a great idea it is: starting a micro lending organization in Upper Volta, for example. That's fine with me. But if one were to suggest the priesthood to him, a wary look comes into his eyes, and he acts as if you have picked your nose in public. This same young man will then send everyone he knows to confession, want Masses said in all kinds of extraordinary situations, etc. What I want to say is that there is an obvious solution to your needs. Or the parents of such a young man will put on sack cloth and ashes at the merest suggestion of the priesthood whereas if he were wanting to be on the first manned space flight to Pluto they would be thrilled.

What is so bad about the priesthood?

I am loved ridiculously. There is no way that I could be loved more than I am as a priest. Sometimes I feel that I am about to explode with the love of God being poured into my heart, just from saying one Mass. And the people! How can a man be so loved?

Well, at least nobody is becoming a priest for worldly gain or reputation!

17 November 2010

To Save A Thousand+ Souls

Here is an article sent by an alumna (I bet a lot of you can guess which one!).

Gentlemen -- this is the kind of thing that causes me to "push" the priesthood. Where could anyone be more needed to offer himself in sacrificial love? Priests are needed. In the military, on college campuses, in parishes, in prisons, in hospitals, in schools, everywhere! This is not a burden and certainly not a waste of your life. It is heroic love that makes life worth living. Anybody ready to go?

Without priests, Catholic military personnel seeking out Protestant pastors

BALTIMORE, MD., November 16 (CNA) - Military Archbishop Timothy Broglio told bishops at their annual gathering in Baltimore that the U.S. military is facing an alarming shortage of priests that is increasingly leading Catholic servicemen to seek help from Protestant pastors.

Calling it a “pastoral problem” that “affects all of us,” Archbishop Broglio appealed to bishops across the U.S. during the annual Nov. 15-18 meeting in Baltimore to consider sending more priests to help serve in the military.

“As you know, the Archdiocese for the Military Services assures the pastoral care for people from your respective particular churches,” he told the bishops. When these people “hang up their uniforms and return home,” he added, “I would like to be able to return them to you as Catholics.”

Approximately one fourth of active duty personnel – 400,000 people – and their immediate families are Catholic, he said.

At present, these Catholics “are served by only 275 priests in a territory that covers the globe,” the archbishop noted. “Those numbers will shrink in the coming years.”

Because many in the armed services often face grave situations, he said, questions about the meaning of life and the existence of God often surface.

“They are at great risk because there are not nearly enough priests to meet their needs,” he said. Speaking of the growing trend for Catholics to seek help from Protestant ministers, Archbishop Broglio said “our separated brothers and sisters are more than eager to fill the gap created by the absence of a priest.”

“If we are not there,” he said, “someone else will be.”

Archbishop Broglio also lamented the increasing amount of suicides that occur in the military. He said that one suicide occurred per day this last June in the U.S. armed forces and asserted that the presence of a priest is essential in helping prevent future “tragedies.”

“We cannot abandon” service men and women “at the moment of their greatest need,” he added.

Archbishop Broglio concluded his remarks by urging the bishops in attendance at the annual meeting to “to consider sending one more priest to the military.” He also appealed for the bishops to designate a day of prayer for peace, an end to suicides, and to express gratitude to U.S. military personnel.

16 November 2010

In the real world

I love Vandy+Catholic because these students are not "play acting" about being Christians. They are living the Catholic faith in the reality of their world at Vanderbilt. And that is not an easy place to do it. They are not totally successful. Neither am I. But they are not passive. I need courage and stamina to stay in the fight with them. And really it is not so much the fight but even more the demands of love that they embrace in order to keep proposing Jesus at Vanderbilt. Pray for them and for me!

11 November 2010

L & R Week, just in time

Isn't it funny how the current controversy in the Vanderbilt Hustler this week is rooted in the virtue of chastity? A Christian fraternal group on campus is under fire from the Hustler for proposing this virtue to its members. Really. Are we to suppose that the Hustler would prefer fewer chaste young men on campus? I can't wait for the fornicators to come after BYX!

I will refrain from commenting on the fraternity's alleged enforcement mechanism, but the real issue is chastity. I don't think that the Hustler would be terribly concerned if an organization proscribed fashion faux pas.

Last year, the campus cultural elites rallied around the adviser to the Muslim student organization when he was asked about the penalty in Islamic law for the same thing -- believe me, it is more severe than removal from a Greek letter organization. I suspect that the Hustler is pushing an agenda rather than reporting news.

Whatever the case, come to the Love and Responsibility talk tonight by Sr. Jane Dominic in Wilson Hall at 7:30 p.m. It's the cool, edgy place to be: Be a rebel; be chaste!

08 November 2010

Boyfriends and Girlfriends

As most of you know, I like old sayings such as: "finer than a frog's hair." I find that conventional sayings are usually much more than merely conventional. There is often wisdom in them. In thinking about all this "DTR" stuff, I have been thinking about the now quaint labels of "boyfriend" and "girlfriend." May I suggest that these terms defined the relationship more profoundly than we might have realized? I think that there is something right about these terms. Boyfriends and girlfriends are indeed not ordinary friends, but they are essentially friends. That is the relationship. This is where I am headed. Sound the alarm, if you see a train wreck coming ahead!

07 November 2010

Fireside Chat

I ask for your prayers for a new addition to the Love and Responsibility line up: my fireside chat about relationships. I am really looking forward to this to see what will happen. I want to know more about what students understand about relationships, and I simply want to throw out some ideas that seem to me to be merely common sense from the safety of a life of committed celibacy.

So often we overlook the most obvious things. I think that is what happens frequently in "defining the relationship." Attention is shifted to minutiae, and the big stuff is overlooked. For example, a healthy relationship strengthens what is best and most virtuous in one another. Doesn't that seem obvious? In the "defining the relationship" mentality however, the emphasis seems to be on determining the limits of how much selfishness the relationship will permit. If my assessment is accurate, doesn't that seem to be a recipe for unhappiness?

OK -- I don't want to be unfair, but perhaps I do want to be a gadfly! See you Tuesday night.

05 November 2010

Prayers, please!

Once a year for the past three years, I have been a part of the team for the Rachel's Vineyard retreat here in Nashville. This is a retreat for post-abortion healing. I ask for your prayers for the retreat this weekend. It is very intense and very powerful.

One of those days...

I don't know what causes "those days" to happen, but the last few days have been heavy and nonproductive. For me as a melancholic, "those days" are days that are sad for no particular reason. I really hate this sadness because it seems so destructive to the Christian life. If I cannot be happy, then who can? Where is my faith?

Anyhow, here we go again! Please pardon my behindness. That is one of the bad consequences of "those days." I sort of freeze up and cannot decide what to do and so do very little.

04 November 2010

I am a jealous God

I love the anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament! Even though false, in a sense, they are so true. God's "jealousy" is for our good not His. That is why it is not true jealousy. We have to love Him alone, or we get into all sorts of trouble. Even the truest rival love leads to Hell (Inferno, canto V). Is that heavy enough for you?

OK -- I am seeing lots of love around me. I used to wonder at seeing so little; now I am amazed at seeing so much. I am going to make a very strange offer: to talk about romantic love. I don't think that I am much of an expert, but I know that there is practically no good advice out there in the DTR culture. I think that I can pass on some of the ancient wisdom of the Tradition.

Here is a hint of the direction I will be taking. This is my working title: "I call you friends."

02 November 2010

What is Christian about Christianity?

It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that authentic, robust, and humble Christianity is what is needed for the life of the world. The specifically Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation translate in practical terms to Love and Mercy as the primary "forces" of creation. At the last Faculty Friday talks, we had the head of the physics and astronomy department speak. He talked about all kinds of things that I don't understand that keep the universe from collapsing: dark matter, dark energy, etc. It is practically impossible to detect these realities; but except for them the universe would collapse. On the metaphysical level, I believe that the same is true about love and mercy. They are not detectable in the great indexes of the world; but except for love and mercy, creation would have come to an end long ago. Love finds its source in the reality of the triune God, a loving communion of persons; and mercy springs from the heart of God made flesh and crucified: Trinity and Incarnation. Love and mercy make sense of our existence. Nothing else does.

The kind of love and mercy that are required to keep creation going have to be found in God. God is love. God is mercy. But not in abstraction: concretely. The only "force" that can account for three in one is love. The only "force" that destroys sin and reconciles sinners is mercy. The greatest mystery is that we are not dealing with "forces" like in Star Wars but rather with persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and Jesus Christ, true God and true man.

There is no system that can replace love and mercy. Trinity and Incarnation are necessary. We seek for some way of avoiding sacrifice. There must be some set of rules to follow, we think. But there isn't. The truth is that Trinity and Incarnation require a personal response: a response of sacrificial love.

29 October 2010

Resolutions

Believe it or not, this fall has been the best organized period of my life. Ever. That, however, is not a high bar. I only half in jest say that I am unable to organize a two-car funeral procession.

I knew that things would begin to be strained once school began, and it is true. The things that were not planned in detail before school started are unraveling. So please pray for me to pull it back together.

By the grace of God, I have accomplished some resolutions that have needed tending to for a long time. For me, the hard things are the routine things of life. I am so undisciplined that I let the boredom of routine get the best of me. I have made a lot of progress with the ordinary things. And I now see the next resolution rising: getting back to people promptly and consistently. I think that I am figuring out some specific ways that will work for me. Next is regular and planned exercise. Third is sleep. I really have not figured out how to do that well!

Oh, and one other private one -- pray for that one especially.

I am very grateful to God for granting me order! What a relief.

27 October 2010

Many Thanks!

Thank you all for your prayers yesterday. It was a time that I was relying on prayer the way that I always should! I was not falling for the illusion that I had anything else to rely on like I do so much of the time. What a better way to live! I should try it more often! Really.

The whole matter came down to a huge misunderstanding -- for once not on my part, except for not realizing what the other people did not understand. I was prepared with all kinds of arguments, but what turned out to be the major difficulty was so fundamental a misunderstanding that I never would have anticipated it. Live and learn.

But thanks for your prayers. I was literally living on them. And still am!

25 October 2010

Prayer Warriors!

All you prayer warriors out there, I really need you at 2 p.m. CST Tuesday! If you need something to pray about, let it be that truth prevails. Thanks!

24 October 2010

Politics

Here is a quotation on the upcoming elections from the Communion and Liberation movement:
"We understand that there can be no better relationship among people than love. And clearly love costs sacrifice for the other's true good. But, if we surrender to the fear of sacrifice, we become trapped in ourselves, alone, numb to the needs, desires, and sufferings of others. Moreover the social structures we build tend to alienate and manipulate others. Above all we recognize the risk of constantly betting on human freedom and its ability to seek what is good, beautiful, and true. Yet, without betting on human freedom, we entrust ourselves to policies, procedures, rules, and regulations, pretending that -- in the words of T. S. Eliot -- we can dream up 'a system so perfect that no one will have to be good.'"

23 October 2010

About Last Night ...

About the only thing that I have to complain about is too much! Too many good things. Last night is just an example: confessions, Mass, alumni reception, Frassati House blessing, and an event at Dismas House that I did not even make it to (about which I feel regret), and an impromptu dinner at McDougal's that I also did not make. This morning, we are starting early with 40 Days for Life, Mass, and off we go!

I actually had an official at the Diocese say that we are understaffed and underfunded! Music to my ears! At the same time, I dealing with issues at the chancery; but it's worth it. One of the alumni after Mass last night, which packed the small chapel on campus, asked if we ran a seminary program. This alumnus could not figure out the reverence of the students.

There is a lot of joy here. The joy of knowing the Lord Jesus in communion with other disciples. Pray for us!

20 October 2010

Echo?

From Archbishop Chaput:

“The central issue is whether we ourselves really do believe. Catechesis is not a profession. It’s a dimension of discipleship. If we’re Christians, we’re each of us called to be teachers and missionaries.”

However, the Denver prelate noted, “we can’t share what we don’t have.”

Whither Vandy Catholic?

Where is Vandy Catholic going?

I have been proposing the Church's ancient method of praying with the Bible. A friend has suggested the acronym "LAMA" for short.

L is for literal -- What does the passage actually say?
A is for allegorical -- What does the passage say about Jesus?
M is for moral -- What does the passage say about my life?
A is for anagogical -- What does the passage say about heaven?

These are all pretty important questions. It has dawned on me that these are good questions for more than praying with the Bible. They are good questions for life.

Why don't we apply them to Vandy Catholic?
Literally there is more going on with Vandy Catholic than I know where to begin to describe it all. Masses, daily and Sunday with confessions. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, holy hours daily and all day Wednesday. Spiritual direction offered many times a week. FOCUS Bible studies all over the place, all sorts of times. iFacts -- knowing Him to love Him better! Graduate groups, retreats, Music ministry, formation groups, service offerings, outreach events. Got the picture?

All for Jesus. We are doing all these things because "in Him it is always YES!" Our mission is to propose Jesus Christ at Vanderbilt. Period.

Made for more. The response to the love of Jesus is love -- in the details. Excellence in living -- good work, good prayer, good friendships, good order, good service.

All aboard for Heaven! Let Jesus save souls -- mine and everyone I can bring to Him. I want to be with Him and them forever.

Considering where we are, our LAMA needs to have some intellectual firepower. We are developing a curriculum to engage our understanding with His Truth and to propose the Truth who is Jesus Christ to the University.

What do you think about this vision?

18 October 2010

The Harvest is Rich, but ...

All young men reading this, go read the Holy Father's letter to seminarians. I think that the timing of the letter for St. Luke's Day has something to do with the Gospel for the day.

Thank you, Holy Father for saying so well what has been in my heart. I really do not want to clobber young men into considering the priesthood, but really how can the need for priests to bring Jesus Christ into our world be denied? Here is how the Pope says it:
God is alive, and he needs people to serve him and bring him to others. It does makes sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time.

Communio

I was talking to a friend last night who just got back from visiting Notre Dame, including going to a football game there. He talked about the great spirit of community there, so visibly manifested in the spirit at the game, but a reality deeper than that. I have experienced it at Notre Dame as well and at other places, in particular with my friends at Texas A&M. Such an experience is extremely attractive to me. I also find it to be rare in our atomized society.

It is one of the things, frankly, that I like best about Vanderbilt Catholic. There is community here. There are certainly dangers of the "tribe" mentality, but we really all need a tribe. The tribe of Vandy Catholic is one that is striving for fulfillment in Christ Jesus; it is Christian. That helps to point out and knock off the rough edges. It keeps the tribe open.

Why do I say that we need a tribe? We need more people to love in relationship. The tribe is another layer of relationship that requires something of me. Sacrificial love is the spice of life.

Mystery

Vocation is about the mystery of sacrificial love. The question of vocation is the question of how God has made me to give myself away in imitation of His sacrificial love. I can give myself away for the one in marriage or for the many in priesthood or religious life. I have to choose. Some people might be equally capable of both, others maybe only for one. I think that is the case with me. Maybe I have just been a priest for so long that I can't imagine being a husband, but I really think God made me for priesthood and not for marriage. I know many fine men who are wonderful husbands but who, I don't think, would make good priests. (Warning -- the previous statements about "either/or-ness" of vocations are not the prevailing wisdom so I am likely wrong. Also, I am assuming priestly celibacy as the norm.)

How do I love best? That seems to be the way that God gives us the nudge in one direction or the other. Do I need to focus my love on one person so as to make it real? To experience its real demands that demand to be fulfilled? And which include the tenderness of unity and loss of self in the other? Or do I love the One in the many manifestations of His love and mercy? Does my heart want "to save a thousand souls"?

In either case, vocation is very much about mystery. The mystery of the other. The mystery of the self. The mystery of the Love, outside of both the other and the self, that unites and fulfills.

17 October 2010

And Back Again

I guess that I forgot to mention why I was at a seminary. Thursday and Friday were the fall break for Vanderbilt. It is becoming a part of my schedule for fall break to go with whatever young men are interested in visiting the seminary on a "sprint" to the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, OH. It is where I went to seminary, and it is where most of our diocesean seminarians are studying now. We had a great visit. I have literally never seen things better at the Josephinum.

On the way home, I was discussing with the two young men who were with me about another vocational concern that I have. Healthy vocations to marriage. These are built on healthy relationships between young men and women. It has seemed to me that there are few relationship among the students that I serve that I would really call happy. In the first place, there are few relationships period, and the ones that do exist do so in a very toxic climate with little support for a happy outcome. I feel called to try to provide these sincere young people with about all I have to offer them: the fruit of a little more experience in life. One of my father's most brilliant sayings is: "good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment." Maybe some of my experience from poor judgment could help them come to good judgment.

DTR -- "define the relationship" This is the code for the rules of "the game" today. It makes perfect sense, in a way. Successful people "take charge" of their lives so it would seem reasonable to "take charge" of one's love life by DTR. I would like to suggest that it does not work, however, simply by pointing to the fruits of its application. Relationships are not happy or strong in our culture. This much I can see. I want to begin to research what is going on now. I have a hunch about a better way, but I don't want to jump to conclusions. Somehow, I think the answer will have something to do with recognizing and serving the mystery of the other, rather than packaging the other into defined categories. I will admit a predisposition to follow the wisdom drawn from a vast depository of good judgment, supported not only by experience but by revelation from the great Lover: the Church, especially as expressed in John Paul II's theology of the body. I would like to try to get there from the bottom up, rather than from the top down, if you know what I mean.

Wish me well!

15 October 2010

Vocations

Well, since I am at a seminary maybe I should post on vocations.

Proverbially, the ability to reproduce oneself is a sign of a healthy vocation: that is, to help young men to find and pursue priestly vocations. If that is the case, then I need to run a diagnosis on my priesthood because I have never yet had someone for whom I was directly pastorally responsible go to the seminary and stay. After 16 years, there ought to be some fruit. One might say that I am suffering from vocational sterility or infertility. It is a good examination of conscience. Of course, just as there are explanations for infertility in the natural order, there are complications that can arise in the order of grace as well. I want to see I can do anything about any of these, not go on a guilt trip.

The Church generally in our culture is not having a great track record with priestly vocations right now. OK, so there are cultural obstacles. But there are also counter-cultural signs out there of vocational success stories. I once told the priests of our diocese when we were in a particularly dry spell with vocations that perhaps we were not attracting vocations because we were not attractive. I can see how that is true for my priestly life. I love it and know the beauty of it, but I fear that too often I show the burden of it instead.

Resolution #1: show the joy of the priesthood and love its crosses

I think that I am not straightforward enough in talking about the glory of my priesthood. I am too afraid of seeming to "push" the priesthood that I fail in letting its glory shine to young men who really are looking for the call to glory. I work with very talented young men, a lot of whom are not particularly excited about their futures in the paths that they are on. What could be more exciting than the priesthood?

Resolution #2: let young men know the glory of the priesthood

I am not virtuous enough. Many sins mar my witness. Many virtues are lacking in my life.

Resolution #3: on-going conversion

I am not enough of a father. They call me that. Am I?

Resolution #4: love them! sacrificially

Well, that should do me for now. When I get these down, I will come back for more! To be honest, I also think that the young men are facing difficulties as well. Here are some of my thoughts in that area:

#1: Not seeking the truth in their lives. They don't ask God what is His Truth for their lives. They, perhaps even unconsciously, have been caught up into the "me-ology" of our culture which is fundamentally subjective rather than objective. They fear even the loving Truth of God because it appears as an imposition from outside of themselves.

#2: Relationship problems. No, not with girls. They simply do not form relationships well or easily so they don't form good relationships with God. They are afraid of relationships. I am no psychologist to analyze this phenomenon, but it is true.

#3: Programmed lives. The young men that I deal with mainly have never failed in their lives. They have never been allowed to. Again probably unconsciously they ask: "Why do I need a savior? If work the plan correctly, I will succeed." They probably know that this is not true, but they do not have the equipment to reach out to Jesus as savior and Lord. They furthermore fear stepping out of the "program" that their parents and their whole life experience have mapped out for them.

How to overcome these obstacles, these fears? The Truth in Love.

14 October 2010

New start

I have been meaning to do something about this blog for a while, but nothing has happened yet. Yesterday, I happened to have started a whole chain of emails going on the topic of hymns at Mass by responding to an article that a priest friend sent out to a large number of people.

The article was analyzing different kinds of songs used at Mass and urging the use of more traditional hymns. I have to say that I have a lot of personal sympathy for this position since I grew up in the Episcopal Church, which at least used to have some of the best of that sort of thing going. Episcopalians, even not particularly devout ones, can sit around singing hymns and enjoy it. I just assumed that church and hymns went together.

Then I learned something about liturgy, and even more, experienced something about liturgy. I had a revelation. The three or four "hymn sandwich," which has become the norm at Mass in our culture, has very little to do with the Roman liturgical tradition, whether these hymns are traditional, praise and worship, or ghastly "we-we" songs. The liturgy has an organic form, and sticking random songs into it is a mismatch. At all the points at which we insert a more or less appropriate song, the liturgy already has a text and music -- except at the end of Mass. These texts are as much a part of the Church's intention for the celebration of the Mass as are the readings. As a matter of fact these "proper" texts are scriptural themselves and echo and reinforce the other texts of the Mass. The Church wants us to use the propers but permits our songs, if we insist. Shouldn't we listen to the wisdom of the Church? It is not as if our liturgical experimentation over the last 50 years as been a rip-roaring success that we are going to threaten.

OK, for you hymn lovers out there, among whom I count myself, we can have our hymns, even at certain points in the Mass. We can also have them in the devotional practices of the Church, at holy hours, novenas, the Divine Office -- all of which should be restored to the life of the parish. But hymns of whatever quality are really not what the Church has in mind as the musical staple of the Mass. The propers are.

Any thoughts?

01 October 2010

Love Never Fails

Well, it is the feast of the Little Flower and the beginning of Vandy Awakening VII: Love Never Fails.

Please pray for the success of the retreat.

21 September 2010

BPG, pray for us!

The Church Belongs to You!

Pope Benedict to the young people of Scotland:

"There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you. Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today’s society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks us to pray for vocations: I pray that many of you will know and love Jesus Christ and, through that encounter, will dedicate yourselves completely to God, especially those of you who are called to the priesthood and religious life. This is the challenge the Lord gives to you today: the Church now belongs to you!"

16 September 2010

Days of Newman

Here is a first installment of reflections of and on soon-to-be Blessed John Henry Newman:

"God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission - I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling. Therefore, my God, I will put myself without reserve into your hands. What have I in heaven, and apart from you what do I want upon earth? My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the God of my heart, and my portion forever."

05 September 2010

hum...

I was having a conversation yesterday with a most delightful group of young men and woman who are mainly engaged in the New Evangelization right here in Nashville. For those of you who hear only gloom and doom about the Church, please come and spend a few days in my world! Your hope will be renewed.

During this conversation, something came up about the senses. I pointed out that according to St. Thomas Aquinas the only sense to be trusted in matters of faith is hearing (see Adore Te). For example, when it comes to the Eucharist sight, taste, and feel deceive one whereas hearing can be trusted: "This is my Body."

One of the young men brought up the speculative point of losing one sense. I said that I was most afraid of losing my sight, and the reason I gave seemed to surprise them. I told them that I didn't know what I would do if I could not read. You see, I love to read.

I have recently been listening in my car to a recording of an excellent novel: All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. I know, this really isn't reading; but being read to by my father is one of the reasons that I think I like to read so much. The two experiences are very close in my mind. It is one of the reasons that I think that I listen reasonably well. Anyhow, I have been struck by how well written this book is. Beautiful. I have been fascinated by the character of the narrator, Jack Burden so much so that I had to go get the book when the last disk proved unlistenable. I had to know what he had learned about himself. It turns out that he had learned a lot. I am interested by what I remember of this book from my reading of it while I was in high school. I was much more sympathetic to Jack then than now. Kind of like Hamlet. Self-absorption becomes boring at a certain point in life! It seems to me that Jack Burden learned to love.

Then this morning when I was lying awake but pretending that I would go back to sleep, I thought of another beautifully written book with an unattractively self-absorbed narrator, Charles Ryder in Evelyn Waugh's Brisdeshead Revisited. I was struck by the similarity of the two narrators and the two books. The books are very different stylistically and culturally, but each is grounded in a style and a culture. They were written close to the same time. Both Jack Burden and Charles Ryder learn to love after experiencing the wreckage of a life of self-absorption. I haven't gotten much further in my thought than that, but it has put some things together in my mind.

See what happens to you when you read?

Oh, and Vanderbilt lost a close one last night. I needed to distract myself.

04 September 2010

Watch out Northwestern!

Yesterday I had the honor of meeting Coach Robbie Caldwell, the new Commodore head football coach. What a gracious man! I was able to offer the service of blessing Dudley Field!


(Stole slightly askew 0:-) )

27 August 2010

I Really Mean It

Who ever said that Inferno is the best part of the Divine Comedy? You won't after reading the Cranky Professor. He, like the Comedia, keeps getting better!

25 August 2010

Stop Everything!

Stop everything, and go read the Cranky Professor on Purgatorio, canto II! You will be hooked on Dante for good!

24 August 2010

Yes!

2 Cor 1:17b-20

Do I make my plans like a worldly man, ready to say Yes and No at once?

As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Timothy and Silvanus and I, was not Yes and No,

BUT IN HIM IT IS ALWAYS YES.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why we utter the Amen through Him, to the glory of God.

21 August 2010

Welcome to Vanderbilt!

Well, it is time to begin again! Welcome everybody!

Thank God for Bishop Choby!

Well, perhaps the latest melodrama of dissent is over. Bishop Choby has once again gently but firmly led his flock, and we are grateful. This is leadership. No drama. Pray for the bishop.

The father of our family in the Diocese of Nashville has brought us back together after a tantrum. I thank him for restoring peace in the family.

16 August 2010

Conscience

Fr. Joe Pat Breen and his followers are citing the primacy of conscience in moral decision making. I am not enough of a theologian to argue the point academically, although others can (see Dr. Janet Smith below). I do want to speak from one area in which I am an expert: my own experience. I have to say that the biggest mistakes and even sins that I have committed have come as a result of my following what my conscience was telling me in contrast to the guidance of legitimate authorities: my parents, my Church, my friends, good old common sense, etc. I know that I cite my conscience as authority for things that I want to do when I can't get approval any other way. My conscience is useful in this way. It is much more susceptible to my own reasoning and justification than outside authorities. Citing conscience makes me feel righteous about fundamentally selfish decisions. I put everybody else in the wrong when I cite my conscience. I become a hero for doing my own thing. I fall for the allure of doing what I want to do and being self-righteous about it.

The problem arises when I come back to reality and see what my conscience has led me into. Even though my conscience can change my perceptions, it can't change reality. I think to myself: "What was I thinking?" I see an abyss opening right in front of me. Time and time again, I catch hold of an authority outside of my own reasoning and pull myself back from the abyss. As a Catholic, I generally find that anchor of authority in Confession. It is humiliating to admit that I can be so blind. It has usually been my conscience that has blinded me. After a number of these humiliations, my conscience slowly learns obedience and becomes a better guide.

15 August 2010

A New Twist

OK -- I am alive. Since returning from Italy, I feel like I have been in perpetual motion. Among other things, we have been making some plans for the blog so stay tuned.

Anticipating the changes, I will include more provocative links than we have heretofore highlighted. A goal this year is to promote intellectual formation. Here goes:

The best thing in the blogsphere: The Cranky Professor on Dante. He's back at it!

Here is some orthodox push-back on a local heresy flap gone viral: Janet Smith on conscience and inspiration for priests to invite lapsed Catholics to come home.

17 June 2010

Fast Time in Italy!

Well, at least from my posting it does not seem that I have been in Italy long at all. I think that I have been busier this summer. I have actually been working a good bit via internet.

I had a wonderful Roman pranzo today with my friend, Fr. David Carter of the Diocese of Knoxville. He had just successfully completed his oral exams for his Canon Law degree the evening before, and I thought that he needed to celebrate! We had a delicious lunch in a small, family restaurant. It was great. We talked of plans for getting priests together from our two dioceses for monthly days of recollection, as the Code of Canon Law stipulates! Please pray that we carry out this holy resolution.

Later in the afternoon, I visited the Venerable English College. They have an exhibition going called: Non Angli, sed Angeli. It was about the history of the college. On Sunday, I fulfilled another dream this trip of visiting San Girolamo de la Carita, just across the street from the English College. It was St. Philip Neri's residence before he moved to the Chiesa Nuova. It is hardly ever open, and even when I did get in I was allowed to visit St. Philip's room only by the hardest! But I did it. I was so moved. It was the emotional high point of this trip for me.

This afternoon, I also stopped by the Brigittine Convent that is nearby to pray especially for my sister. We stayed in this residence the summer before she entered the convent -- more than 25 years ago. I remember what a "stick in the mud" I was on that trip for her! I think that she has forgiven me :-)

OK. I am actually getting myself in mind to come home. I am SO excited about getting ready for the fall. Thanks to all of you for your prayers, support, and help.

12 June 2010

Year of the Priest

I have been the lamest blogger ever this summer, especially since I have so much to blog about. We went to the two big closing events for the Year of the Priest. I will have to let you read what Pope Benedict said because I don't know Italian! I can tell you about the ceremonies themselves.

On Thursday night, there was the Vigil and Adoration and Benediction. Other than the program for the "vigil" being way too long, it was really impressive. There were thousands of priests there from everywhere. I seemed to notice lots of Latin Americans in particular. Adoration and Benediction were especially impressive. Almost all of the priests were kneeling on the cobblestones, and at a certain point the entire place was completely quiet just before Benediction.

The Mass the next day was also surprisingly reverent for such a big event. I think that it is clear that Pope Benedict is leaving his mark on the Church: faithful, thoughtful, prayerful. He is looking at things in the long term. One thing that I am very grateful for is that the seminarians seem to take it all for granted. That is a change for the good.

09 June 2010

What am I doing?

Sorry for the slow blogging. I ought to be overflowing with stuff to say, but I am simply trying to do my job the best I can. While I am physically here in Rome, a large part of my heart and mind is back in Nashville working on the last part of the year to be wrapped up: the finances. Our fiscal year ends on June 30, and we stand a good chance of ending the year with our budget in balance. That is a big change from last year, when I was sitting here in Rome worried about a big deficit and not being about to do much about it. So thanks to all of you who have made this a better year financially. It is definitely not too late to help up out this year so please hit the donate button or send us a check soon! I would love to be able to say that we have completely turned the financial situation around at the close of the fiscal year! Help me to do it!

I am also looking forward and getting things lined up for next year. I think that we are better prepared than ever for a great year. We are planning our outreach, retreats, classes, events, and so much more for next year. I was trying to figure out why I feel so much better about these preparations than last year. It's because my assistant back in Nashville has not just had a baby this year, as she had last year. Even I tried to leave her alone for a while last year. But I can definitely say that when Kristi is available to assist my work, my life is better! Especially when I am across the ocean from my office!

And Rome ... well, I am having a good time showing it to the seminarians. I did get better acquainted with the city last year so it's easy to do. Of course, it is wonderful to be here. More about that later.

30 May 2010

Extraordinary Form

This morning I attended a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia. (The community here in Norcia celebrates Mass in both forms.) It is the first Mass of this kind that I have ever attended. (I actually participated slightly. As a priest in choir, I returned the Blessed Sacrament to the tabernacle in another chapel.) The Mass was beautifully celebrated. I am too new at the Extraordinary Form to give much of an opinion yet. I celebrated my first low Mass about a week before leaving Nashville. As a celebrant at a small or private Mass, I certainly appreciate it very much. I also think that I begin to understand what the Council Fathers had in mind for a reform. I think that we got much more than that, for good or ill -- who is to say? Having grown up in the extreme end of Anglo-Catholicism, I think that I can imagine a reform that would have made much use of the vernacular and allowed for greater participation of the laity and yet retained more of the ceremonial and order. But that is not what occurred. Will experiences like mine lead to a rethinking of what was lost as well as gained in the reform as it actually happened? I think that this could be very helpful, but it will take time. I am excited to learn more about the Extraordinary Form.

There is a great difference even from last year in the spread of the Extraordinary Form. This week I was at the Casa Santa Maria, the residence for American priests studying in Rome. The EF is regularly celebrated by a number of the priests there. It seems that it is becoming a part of the landscape. That is a big change.

Some of the seminarians with us attended the Mass this morning with a spirit of interest and curiosity. I think that they were impressed by what they saw. I think that Pope Benedict is giving the liturgy a new start at organic development.

27 May 2010

Reporting from Italy

OK, sorry about that! It has been a whirlwind trying to get away and get going here. About a week after graduation, I left for Italy for the Rome Experience, a program for seminarians that I help to direct. (That sounds fancier than it is.) So there was a lot to finish up at home and a lot to get sorted out here.

Right now we are in Norcia, the birthplace of Sts Benedict and Scholastica. The seminarians are on retreat. I am, however, getting on a bus for Rome in a few minutes to go meet with Fr. Socias, who calls the shots on the program. No rest for the wicked! I am meeting a priest from Knoxville and two Nashville seminarians for dinner tonight so I will be having some fun. Then I come back here tomorrow evening, and things will be a bit slower for a while.

I love Norcia. It is an incredibly charming walled city in the midst of mountains, but there are personal reasons why I am so fond of Norcia. A wonderful priest, Fr. Cassian Folsom, is the prior here. He has been tremendously helpful to me as a seminarian and priest. I have the greatest respect for him. Fr. Benedict, another one of the monks here, I have known since he was in college at Sewanee. I am very happy that we are spending so much time here this year.

I'll let you know how Rome goes!

16 May 2010

Mercy

OK, I confess that I have been thinking again -- sorry, Fr. Jones. I have been thinking about proposing Jesus Christ to the world. What exactly am I proposing? I think that more than anything else the proposition that Jesus offers to the world is mercy.

Mercy is not indifference to evil or suffering. Jesus says to the woman caught in adultery: "go and sin no more." He knows that she is a sinner. But earlier and more importantly, He says: "neither do I accuse you." He is about mercy, not accusation. We need to remember that in how we treat others, personally and publicly; and we need to remember it in our own souls. God is not an accuser. Satan is the accuser -- it's what that name means. I think that my greatest failure in the spiritual life is my failure to accept God's mercy and rather to be in league with the accuser against myself and therefore against others too.

Mercy seems too good to be true. It is not the way of this world. Not only do we suffer for what we do wrong, but we also suffer for what we do right or for no reason at all. The mercy of God envelopes all of this. Mercy does not "make it go away" or make it good, but mercy gives us power and freedom to transform all of this for good. Mercy gives us freedom.

In accepting mercy, we become free of denial. We do not have to deny, justify, and rationalize what is really undeniable, unjustifiable, and irrational. The abuser can say: "I abuse." The one who covers up abuse can say: "I covered up." The alcoholic can say: "I am a drunk." The one who holds resentments can say: "I resent." We can escape denial because the Lord says: "I do not accuse you." Oh yes, there are consequences; but in mercy humiliation and even incarceration are liberating. We are free of the lie of denial.

Mercy also sets us free from despair. I can always begin again and sin no more. It is exactly when we give up because we think we are unforgivable that we become overwhelmed by sin. Mercy breaks us out of this trap and lie.

There is a strange logic to mercy. It almost, but not quite, seems to endorse evil: O felix culpa. This is because mercy flows from sacrifice, which almost seems to make love into hate. In mercy, love becomes both subject and verb. Love is all there is, and it swallows up sorrow and failure and pain. The circumstances of the lover and the beloved become irrelevant -- if the lover must die, it is still love. If the beloved is unworthy, it is still love. Isn't this the message of the Cross?

So it seems to me that Christianity is really offering something radically different from anyone else: mercy. Christians are not better or nicer than anyone else. Christians are bearers of mercy. I think that I need to be renewed in this reality. The Church is sending me Pentecost. I will pray that the love of God will be poured into my heart by the Holy Spirit once again so that Jesus Christ is once again proposed to me. Then I can carry out my mission to propose Him to you!

15 May 2010

Toward a new Pentecost

"We impose nothing, yet we propose ceaselessly," according to Pope Benedict. And what do we propose? Jesus as Lord and Christ.

I was so pleased last night at the Baccalaureate Mass for Pope John Paul II High School here in Nashville that Deacon Brian Edwards did exactly that in preaching to the graduates. Just before Mass I had been talking to Chris Findley, a friend of mine who is the head of the theology department at the school, and had asked him if the students loved the Lord Jesus. He answered honestly that generally speaking not so much, of course with wonderful exceptions. We were discussing as the procession was beginning for the Mass the need to propose Jesus at the heart of the school, to the heart of every person in the school, as the mission for all that we do there. Catechesis is a part of that but only a part. I was so pleased to hear the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the Truth at this Mass.

I had earlier in the day been at graduation here at Vanderbilt. It is really an impressive event for an impressive institution. Vanderbilt strives to be "national" and even "international," but on graduation day VU is all Southern graciousness and hospitality. Strawberries and champagne! Anyhow, I did notice one change in the program: no prayer during Commencement. I am not sure how big a matter this is practically. The "prayers" at the last few commencements that I have attended were so generic as to be almost self-parodying. But Commencement was an entirely secular event. Perhaps that is not so bad. God loves the saecula. Grace builds on nature and so we should embrace natural excellence. But let us also propose Jesus Christ!

Chancellor Zeppos offered the insight that of all of Commodore Vanderbilt's accomplishments, this university is the one that still lasts and bears fruit. The Chancellor stated his confidence that the university would continue to do so. I fully agree, and yet there will come a day, by and by, when VU will be in ruins. May that day be long in coming, yet it is coming. There is a quirky poem about my own alma mater called Sewanee in Ruins that imagines such a day. (After all, the University of the South has already lain in ruins once in its short history, and a half-million dollar endowment [half of what the Commodore would donate a few years later to found Vanderbilt] lost.) I hope that it is not impossible to imagine such a day for Vanderbilt -- and for ourselves. It is the thought of that day that keeps our accomplishments in perspective.

So let us celebrate human accomplishment! But let us remember the also human weakness and find our ultimate hope elsewhere. Let us propose Jesus as Lord and Christ.

09 May 2010

Stop Thinking!

"You think too much." This was one of the best pieces of spiritual advice* that I have ever received from a spiritual director. (It was from Fr. Carlton Jones, O.P., if you are curious.) I think that it is the case right now so no more thinking out loud in these posts for a while! Rather, I will try to notice things instead.

When I was in seminary, one of my wise professors told me that he was trying to teach us enough philosophy so that we could hold our own at cocktail parties. I have put that to good use this weekend at a rehearsal dinner Friday night and a baptism party last night. Friday night, I was with a particularly interesting subculture: old Georgia Catholics, the kind of people Flannery O'Connor came from. Last night, more good Southern folks, this time with a Notre Dame connection. The training I received from Fr. Glavin and at Sewanee stood me well. Could this be part of the New Evangelization -- or just having fun?

*The absolute best advice came from Fr. Francesco Turvasi: "be at peace!"

08 May 2010

Vandy Catholic College

I am always surprised when the end of the semester comes. To me, Vanderbilt is a very boring place when students go away, especially undergraduate ones. Everybody else is so narrowly focused as not to be very interesting unless one shares the same narrow interest. Vanderbilt is a multiversity rather than a university. But what is the "uni" in a modern secular university? I am very happy that Vandy Catholic operates in some ways as a college in the university. We have a "uni" to draw us together. We have all sorts of undergraduate students, but more and more graduate ones as well, who know each other and are involved with each other, not just personally but professionally as well. When a graduate student in history took a course in the Divinity School, the professor asked her: "what are you doing in my class?" It happened to be a seminar on Aquinas. Should any scholar have to apologize for being interested in Aquinas?

Going negative a bit here -- I believe the lack of any absolute principles is the reason that Vanderbilt has been unable effectively to stand up to the hook-up culture. We have been through the trauma here of one of our students doing what the university cannot do: offering a rational critique of the promiscuous sexuality that is so rampant on college campuses. This university is so tied to the relativism of the age that it cannot even speak out when a student is attacked for daring to offer a rationale that the hook-up culture is bad for students. It was not always so at Vanderbilt. In Nashville, there is a publication that prints old newspaper articles from different years past but which occurred in the same month. It is a funny concept, and I cannot fathom how it is profitable. There surely cannot be enough people like me who are nostalgic about "old" Nashville. Anyhow, in the May edition there is an article from May of 1952 about panty raids at Vanderbilt. The Chancellor at the time had no difficulty in denouncing the perpetrators in the most uncompromising terms. Of course, at the time Vanderbilt was complacent about racial segregation so I guess it all depends on where your blind spots are. Today the Chancellor of Vanderbilt would have no difficulty in denouncing smoking but would have the greatest possible difficulty in addressing fornication. The point is that there is no rationale beyond current fashion. Vanderbilt, like the other "universities," is simply a smart and wealthy voice of the present moment. It cannot step out of the intellectual fashion of the moment. To do so would risk the scorn of it peers, and when its excellence is largely based on reputation it cannot afford to do that.

OK, back to the positive! I think that Vandy Catholic is a place where students can be really liberal -- really free, especially of the present moment. I don't want students who all think alike, and I don't think that they do. They do think. And they think from the same first principles (-- that is the hallmark of our "college" and may there be other "colleges" that really think from first principles!) Those principles lead in the same general direction, but the divergences are fun. We have a "saving trees/saving souls" debate that resurfaces every couple of years when a new crop of leaders cycles through. Ah, this brings me back to the beginning: the transitoriness of being a university chaplain. But isn't transitoriness reality for a Christian in this world?

06 May 2010

Better Now!

OK, for all of you who expressed concern about my last post -- I'm better now! Mainly, it helps when my awesome assistant, Kristi Bentley, is here as she was yesterday. On a more spiritual level, of course, all is for good. What I was trying to say yesterday is that my emotions were really low and with some reason for it, but we go on -- not Stoically but for love of Love. So today, let's begin again and see what adventure God has for us.

05 May 2010

Wrapping Up

I am trying to remain enthusiastic about what God is calling me to do, and I have to admit that I have been finding it difficult lately. I am being asked to love for Love's sake and for not for other reasons, and I am struggling to do that. In my life, what has looked like the love of God and what has been uplifting and generally successful have coincided for the most part. It has therefore been easy to keep charging along, thinking that I am doing it for the love of God.

Right now, I cannot really be enthusiastic about the splendor of the Church. Oh, she is splendid all right, but she is hiding it well these days! I cannot by "hyped up" about the rip roaring quantitative success of Vanderbilt Catholic. We ended the year with a less than stellar attendance and participation in the last full weekend of Masses for this school year. Personally, I just don't see the fruits of what I do; but I do see the things that I mess up. This is, of course, totally missing the point; but it is what I feel these days. It only gets worse when one looks at the larger world and realizes that we are being led by people who are not dealing with the crises of our times. And I see the sadness and difficulty of this world, from flooding to aging.

All of these things are true. And none of them have any thing to do with the most important things. I know the love of God for the world and for me. I am being asked to love that Love for His own sake and not for the goodies that He has so generously given me. (And in reality, there still are plenty of goodies!) This is really no big deal. It is an early step in spiritual development. I do have to say that it is a struggle for me at this time.

And here we are ending up another year. The students are doing such a good job at trying to live the Kingdom of God here at Vanderbilt, not the easiest place in the world to live it. I was counseling a student last night about whether to work in a parish youth program or in the music business. I advised the music business because Jesus wants to be there and generally isn't. The fact that it will be hard is beside the point. OK -- I get the message, Lord!

28 April 2010

Musings from Notre Dame

Well, I threatened that I might have more to muse on from my time at Notre Dame. I am making good on that threat. I have to say that I was encouraged by what I saw at Notre Dame. OK -- before anyone starts pointing out all the faults of the place, let me say that I was not blind to them. For example, there was evidence around of some sort of gay agenda week recently. I went to check out the University's web site about it, and what I found was not entirely satisfactory. On the other hand, it is a far cry from the LGBTQI office at Vanderbilt. There was some effort to present and engage the Church's teaching on the matter. So I will say that all is not well at Notre Dame. I did, however, see a lot of good things that I simply cannot imagine finding at another university of equal academic reputation.

(This attitude that I am taking about Notre Dame is an attitude that I am trying to take across the board. Since I am a limited human being, I will try to limit myself to the good that I can do. I will not shirk dealing with something bad that is my responsibility; but if it is not my responsibility, I am trying not to waste my limited energy on it. Let me focus on something good that I am responsible for instead. There is more of that than I have time for as it is. So if I were actually at Notre Dame, I would probably need to concern myself more with the bad that needs to be corrected; but as it is I have the luxury to appreciate the good.)

So back to Notre Dame -- what a great accomplishment and resource for the Church. Here at Vanderbilt, I feel that I serve in a sort of resistance operation in occupied territory. It is good work and, I think, the work that most of us in this culture need to undertake. Christendom is gone and, as far as I can tell, isn't coming back anytime soon. (That is simply a statement of fact, not of preference.) At Notre Dame, I felt that I was getting some R&R in a friendly environment. We need that, too, and I appreciate it. Notre Dame is not an academic boutique but a real university, maybe about the only one we have that is really a university and recognizably Catholic. Maybe I am wrong about that, and I hope that I am. In any case, it was my first experience of it.

I am convinced more and more of the good Thomistic principle that grace builds on nature. I think that too often we religious folks fail to appreciate the wonder of our human nature and its potential. Of course, we are limited and fallen and therefore capable of great evil -- which we too often blame on the Devil when it is mainly our own fault! Yet our nature is awesome and capable of such excellence. Let's strive to achieve it with all that we have to offer. Too often we presume on grace to overcome laziness or lukewarmness in applying ourselves naturally. The story of Notre Dame is, of course, one of grace but grace in direct connection to robust natural effort and excellence. It is hard to see where nature ends and grace begins. Generally speaking, I believe that is what God wants from us: hearty natural achievement, enriched by grace. It is one of the principles of FOCUS and of Opus Dei that I admire. I found it at Notre Dame, threatened indeed by secularism. I hope that it survives. For those of you not in academia, I hope that you can appreciate just how radical it is in that world to recognize God at all in a public and institutional way. Religion might be tolerated as a quirky personal preference but not as a public reality. That is what Notre Dame still does.