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.