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.


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.