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.

26 April 2010

Scandal II

Well, here I go again. How hard can it be to say that we are sorry and to make some attempt at repentance? Our readings these days are about Christ the Good Shepherd. Can our shepherds, our bishops, come up with some sort of adequate apology and repentance about this mess? I do not think that it is so hard a thing to do. They have the institutional ability to pull it off. The communications during the health care debate and the response to the earthquake in Haiti show that they are able do big things fast. Why not here?

Perhaps we in America can give an example even to the Holy See itself on how to respond to failure. The reforms of the Dallas charter, although not perfect, have been effective at protecting children. Let's shake up the unhealthy aspects of clerical culture. It would not be the end of the world to be a lot more transparent about everything. It would not be the end of the world to delegate real authority. It would be a blessing for the Church not only in this area but across the board. There is so much talent in the Church. The bishops will always be the shepherds, but they really would profit by being more accountable to the sheep! They will be more effective and truer signs of Christ the Good Shepherd.

It is a lot more fun and fruitful to be part of mixing things up in the messiness of the world. Imagine real Catholic witness about marriage and family life: taking the time, for example, to engage engaged couples about their vocation -- by giving up cohabitation, embracing NFP, etc. Imagine hunkering down to real inspiration to lead an interior life: let's all pray a national holy hour! Imagine a renewal of catechesis and sacramental practice: every Catholic Church in America offering Confession at the same time! There are people imagining all these things and more. Turn them loose! Maybe I am around too many on-fire young Catholics. But maybe not... They don't care if you admit that you have messed up. They really want to set the world on fire with the love of Jesus Christ. Lead them.

Catch Up Post

Sorry folks for being so lame a blogger. It has been quite a week. Here is a wrap up:

First I want to share something that will sound very boring to you all but is very exciting to me. We had our first "Leadership Council" meeting last week. This is more or less an advisory board for Vanderbilt Catholic. As one of the students said, "a grown up board" in contrast to our student board. I was extremely happy with the outcome. Despite the appearance that Vanderbilt Catholic is a substantial organization, it really isn't in literal terms of structure and finance. Despite the on-fire student leadership and the impressive facilities of Frassati House, I basically have to worry about keeping the lights on. I sometimes wish that we had dumpy quarters because people take one look at Frassati House and think "rich" or that we had less successful programs because their success implies some sort of organizational wherewithal. Indeed we do suffer a genteel poverty! The necessity of being a beggar is the only thing about this assignment that is a struggle for me. For some time I have needed to organize outside help for the chaplaincy, but I am organizationally impaired. I can't organize a two-car funeral procession. Last week, I finally did it. I was able to get together a few people with the desire and means to help Vanderbilt Catholic. It makes me feel better! So please pray for the effectiveness of the new Vanderbilt Catholic Leadership Council.

The saga of the CNN.com story continues to unfold. It was picked up by the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, etc. It also caused quite a stir on campus. Again, my main concern was for the welfare of the student. Here I should have had no worries. She has handled things so well, including a column in the Vanderbilt paper on Friday. But she has come in for a lot of unwanted attention. What she has done is simply to speak the truth. We were not made to get drunk and "hook up." She said that she used to do that. Now she doesn't. She is better for the decision. This way of life is the predominant student culture here at Vanderbilt, embedded in the Greek system, and at colleges generally. Everybody knows that it is true and knows that it is demeaning to human dignity. This student pointed out that the Emperor of the Predominant Culture has no clothes on. Fortunately there is a radical sub-culture that embraces the Gospel of Life and it's incarnation in the Theology of the Body. The original CNN article had discovered this counter-culture and was intrigued by it. It is intriguing. It is what I work with all the time. I feel like a revolutionary!

Finally, I had the opportunity to visit the University of Notre Dame du Lac this weekend to preside at a wedding in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart there on campus. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. I can certainly understand how people become so devoted to the place. Although it certainly has it's struggles and faults, it is a place that does not buy into the dominant culture. It is in it but not of it. Good for Notre Dame. I may share some more thoughts about this in the days to come...

19 April 2010

Heroic witness

I want to go on record immediately to support one of our Vanderbilt Catholic students who has been quoted in the national press taking a counter cultural stand. It is not an easy thing to do. She speaks very honestly about her own experience. I know that her witness will help other people. I hope that she is not hurt by the publicity. I, for one, am proud of her.

06 April 2010


Well, here I go. I think that I ought to say something about the controversy in the press about the sex scandals in the Church. Not that I think that I have any particular wisdom in this regard, but I do think that anyone who has responsibility for souls in this situation needs to give some sort of guidance or reflection.

There are at least two scandals in this situation. The first is the scandal of sexual perversion and predatory behavior among priests. This is really evil. It should not happen. It is a betrayal of everything the priesthood ought to be. I think that I can point to a number of factors that prepared the way for these scandals: lack of interior life among priests, personal failure, lack of true fraternity among priests including fraternal correction, the cultural sexual revolution and resulting sexualization of practically everything, problems in the formation of priests especially moral formation resulting from bad theology, attitudes and practices of clericalism, etc. There is a lot of blame to go around.

The second scandal is the scandal of the bishops and their failure to handle the situations as pastors protecting their flocks from predatory priests. Children and young people have been abused. They needed to be taken care of and protected. Even before any of the "reforms" that have been implemented, there has always been the Church's own canon law and internal discipline that was almost totally disregarded by the bishops. Criminal laws were also ignored. The sins and crimes of priests were not taken seriously. Too much regard has been and still is given to the reputations of proven perpetrators. No one has a right to be a priest or to continue to serve in priestly ministry. Once serious breaches of the trust that the faithful put in the office of a pastor have been proven, then that man must be dealt with openly and firmly by his bishop. This has been done too rarely. The failure to protect the flock and the failure to protect the integrity of the priesthood are themselves serious offenses for which bishops ought to take personal responsibility. Certainly no one has a right to be a bishop or to continue to exercise the episcopal office. Reputation is not as important as reality.

OK. All that being said, what about the press coverage? Well, news is news. To some extent, the press and popular culture are being perhaps a bit hypocritical in their reaction to these events. Standards are being applied to clerical sexual predators and cover ups that are not applied in other settings. This sort of behavior is unfortunately old news. In some cases the press is stretching more than in others: the reporting about Pope Benedict seems to be quite a stretch. I think that we should generally be quiet and take any unfairness in the situation. After all, to bear wrongs patiently and to forgive all injuries are spiritual works of mercy. On the whole the reporting of these scandals, although at times unfair, has been beneficial to the Church to force reform. Almost nothing else has produced efforts at reform. So basically I think the press has done us a favor, even if unwittingly. The Church is better for the reporting than if it had not happened.

Now where do we go from here? Apologize, correct, reform, renew. Mainly this has to be done by the bishops. Publicly acknowledge the wrongs of both sets of scandals. Give and accept the correction that is needed. Try to ensure that the scandals cannot happen again. Go to the roots and begin again for holiness.

Providentially I have been reading a biography of St. Catherine of Siena during these days. What an heroic figure in the history of the Church who faced terrible scandals caused by the clergy. She was strong in her condemnation of the corruption, but she also never lost her supernatural perspective. The sins of men will always be with us. The power of God's mercy is greater. We should never waver in adhering to the Truth. We should likewise not be dismayed that we see failure around us.

Finally, I think that real reform needs to take place among us priests. We are called to heroic lives. We settle for comfortable ones. I pray that we can effectively be led to renewal according to the heart of Jesus.

04 April 2010

Christ is Risen!

Well, we had another first at Frassati House last night during the post Easter Vigil party -- an engagement in the chapel. WOWZA!

And party is all you can call it. A couple just out of college and getting married in a few weeks were on the porch because inside it was like a "college party." Well, I hope so!

Of course, the Vigil was awesome, literally. For Vanderbilt Catholic there were: two baptisms, six receptions, one "extra" confirmation, and the reception of a dad!

What a great life I have. What a great community this is. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!