30 April 2011

Blessed John Paul the Great

Well, what a week...a real turmoil for me personally. Any week in which I make three posts and then take them down indicates a certain personal instability. I have to say that what I admire most about Pope John Paul is his ability to hold it all together on the human level. I just can't do it, even with so much less to cope with than he had throughout his life. I think that I have mentioned before Fr. Benedict Groeschel's suggestion to ask under which of the transcendentals (the One, the True, the Good, or the Beautiful) you most relate to God. (Awkward sentence) I definitely relate to God most as the One. I simply cannot hold it together apart from God.

Pope John Paul seems to me to be the most humanly integrated of men: holding it together through the loss of his mother when he was a child, his brother as a teenager, his father when he was in college, his nation and education under the Nazis, freedom under the Communists, being shot while pope, his health as an old man, and on and on. None of these things diminished his humanity or his love of God. They rather enhanced them. It looked easy in him, but it was not. It was indeed heroic sanctity. He had possession of himself because he had allowed God to possess him. Somehow this self-possession was tied to God without diminishing his humanity. How brilliant, how prayerful, how aesetic, how gentlemanly, how athletic, how holy, how self-controlled, how loving, how interested, how interesting...was this man. He was a man.

I believe that it was Bl. John Paul who told us that in Jesus, God reveals man to man. Pope John Paul revealed Jesus, the man, to me.

26 April 2011


Last night I was able to meet with the book club, Legit Lit. It is another brainchild of Chad Cunningham's to adorn the intellectual pillar of Vandy Catholic. It was the last discussion on Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. Warren was selected for his connection to the literary tradition at Vanderbilt -- which the university seems happy to forget!

I was happy to revisit this book, which I had studied in high school under the direction of a great teacher, George Hazard. As an adult, I saw so much that I had not seen as an adolescent. On both readings, I liked the book very much. I like it more now. At the end of the day and practically the end of the book, I see it to be about love. Jack Burden, at least, lives in a world constrained by theories and ideals. People are merely the props for the "Great Twitch", etc. But something changes at the end. We are on course for a formulaic and deterministic, Greek tragedy-type ending; and suddenly the Furies are silenced. We end up with a comedy, in the medieval sense -- a happy ending with reconciliation and even marriage. People start to matter. Willie Stark is a great man. Sugar Boy is pitied. Jack's mother becomes sympathetic. Jack starts to care about people, not ideals or systems. Of course, it is all wildly subjective, all from Jack's point of view.

Everyone at the end of the book is worse off in a worldly sense but better off spiritually. They are not all good, but they are all free to be good. No more "Great Twitches." This is simply the Christian view of humanity. (Warren even reconciles Calvinism to the light!) We could learn a lesson from this book. Our public discourse and private reasoning is all full of the kind of thing Jack used to do, jumping from one determinism to another: from liberal intervention to libertarian aloofness. It is all the same -- ideals, not people. Warren asserts that Mind is not over matter! Matter matters, especially human matter, all entwined with ideals but not subjected to them.

Sorry for such a strange post.

P.S. This is what is important about teaching literature in high school. See Sr. Margaret Andrew's talk at the NCEA today: "What is at Stake in Literature Classes."

24 April 2011

"Next Time"

"What already exists is not called into question." Pope Benedict offers this view of the historicity of the Resurrection. God allows what is to remain intact while offering something new. The Pope actually uses the term "evolutionary leap"! I understand his point as the Divine "next time."

Let me try to unravel what I am thinking. I think that the Pope is trying to address the skepticism of those who say that the Resurrection is impossible because it contradicts scientific data. He proposes the notion that it does not contradict science but offers new insights about life beyond scientific phenomena. He admits that the Resurrection does not fit into current scientific categories because it is actually the first act of a new creation and therefore of a new science, so to speak. He respects the old creation while not limiting Himself to its categories. He does something new.

I frankly do not have the time or the energy to go much further into this! It would help for me actually to read the book first: Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week. But it has given me some practical insight into living the Resurrection. Last night, for example, I was the Master of Ceremonies for the Bishop's celebration of the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral. We got off to a ceremonial rough start but eventually found our footing! I tend to allow such things to upset my peace, and this did for a time. But then I thought, "next time" rather than "should have." Even in this trivial and subjective example, the pattern can be seen. The mistakes of "history" were not denied, but the potential for newness carried me forward. It seems to me that we could call this "new science," mercy.

23 April 2011

Holy Saturday

"Something strange is happening"... That is how the Second Reading at the Office Readings begins today. Certainly true historically and liturgically. There must have been some premonition of the revolutionary newness of the resurrection.

I can also say the same about my life right now. I think that the Lord is calling me to embrace His newness as I have never done before. I think that He has offered in the past but I have failed to accept. I thought that there was too much holding me back -- in my case, mainly negative emotions. The Lord is offering again. Please pray for me to accept this time: to come out of Egypt like Israel, to come out of the tomb like Lazarus. I love a quotation from one of St. Francis de Sales meditations: "What are we doing in Egypt?" Indeed.

The only emotion worth taking personally is that which is associated with the love of Jesus Christ for us.

21 April 2011


It is a day of wonder that begins with a welcome hospital call. It was a call back to reality...to help a soul from this life. That strong sun evaporated the some heavy mists in my heart which were heavy but only mists -- no substance.

And ended with these words bounding out of St. John's Gospel during the Maundy Thursday watch: "I have loved them as much as you loved me" (17:23). To be loved as much as the Father loves the Son!


Pope Benedict on the Triduum

Good Holy Week Reading

20 April 2011


Happy Birthday, Sr. Margaret Andrew! I always joke with my sister, Sister, that she doesn't smile in pictures. So here is a good one :-) I guess that I make up for both of us.

I have to confess that I have had to get used to Sr. Margaret Andrew being in Nashville. We actually have not lived in the same city in a long time. I am sure that I make too much of the strength of my big sister's personality. I could have no greater cheerleader than my sister!

She is so great about finding the best in other people and bringing it out. This is certainly true in my case. So many people have "found themselves" in their encounters with Sr. Margaret Andrew. It is the secret of how she is such a good teacher. She is into education, literally: "leading out" the goodness that lies within her students.

She is also incredibly well educated herself: B.A., two Masters, and a Ph.D. on the way. And yet she actually pretends not to be very smart. That won't fly anymore!

She integrates it all so well under the mantle of Charity. You never can tell, for example, when a literary discussion will turn to a manifestation of the love of Jesus. Or when a errand will turn into a work of mercy. That is the way things are supposed to be. You ought to see her on the beach at the Redneck Riviera! The New Evangelizatoin, indeed!

Well, I love you very much!


Looking back at my posts this semester, I see a big omission: any sort of personal reference to one of the biggest changes at Vandy Catholic since I have been here. I had posted a link to an article about it, but I had not commented in a personal way. I am talking about Chad Michael Cunningham coming to Vandy Catholic officially as Director of Campus Ministry and Development. I have been reserved about this for a couple of reasons. The first is that I had to be for so long. I didn't want to "blow it" as we were working through the long process of making a hire. Secondly, I was concerned about being too personal. The first in now happily resolved. I have been cured of the second worry by CeeCee Savrda, one of the FOCUS missionaries. I experienced her influence on me in this regard just last night as I gave some advice to Chad. (More about that later.)

Last night Chad gave his valedictory iFacts class of his first year teaching. It was really a personal testimony about why all of this theology matters. I am moved to thank him and to acknowledge him personally and publicly. I have labored hard here at Vanderbilt for five school years. During that time, I have often had to live small; but I always kept dreaming big. In the past year, a rare thing (in my experience) happened: both the vision for our future and means to accomplish it have come together in the person of Chad. The adventure just continues! I am excited by the prospect that it might soon be possible for his teaching to be more widely appreciated. Let's just pray about that for now. Since it is Holy Week and not a good time for celebrating, I will leave you with this picture from Christmas time!

19 April 2011

Newman Connection

In your charity, please go here and join in the United in Prayer pledge. Vanderbilt Catholic and the Newman Connection are considering some exciting collaboration. I will keep you posted.

Walking on Quicksand 2

I left out an important part of what Fr. Jacek told me: love and prefer being useless to God. As St. Francis de Sales puts it: "you are altogether useless to Him." That is when He can use you -- in incredible ways.

18 April 2011

Walking on Quicksand

I am almost literally stumbling into Holy Week. Have you ever lost your balance and found yourself running forward to keep from falling down? That is about where I am! I am not complaining, just describing. Frankly, it is really awesome. I have put a lot of hard work into this school year, and it is coming to a close with so much to be thankful for. We are definitely not where we were at the beginning of the year. But I am definitely not in control of things at this point. The difference is that I am enjoying this lack of control. I only hope that I am not driving everyone around me crazy. I am trying to rely on others much more. I am becoming more content with giving my best effort rather than holding myself to a notion of perfection. Sometimes I do feel like I am going to crash, but somehow things pull back together and continue stumbling forward. Saturday afternoon was one of those near melt-down times, but through the kindness of friends peace returned. I am reminded of a line from a crazy movie that goes something like this: "she worships the quicksand I walk on." Walking on quicksand -- that's it.

I took the opportunity to go to confession to one of the priests who had come for confessions yesterday afternoon on campus. He is my spiritual director -- God bless him! I confessed this crazy state that I have been in. He asked just how was this a sin. Well, we was right. It is not a sin to be in this state. I did give into to sinful anger and irritation at times during it, but the state itself is not a sin. He said that it is the state of being a priest! It is a state which drives us to be Jesus almost in desperation because we cannot be ourselves. We become Jesus almost in spite of our best efforts: when our best efforts are woefully inadequate and just too small. The bigness that is required to pull this off comes only from Him. I have been reading something like this in Fr. Benedict Groeschel, come to think of it. There comes a choice between running out onto the quicksand or turning back. Well, here goes!

17 April 2011

Vanderbilt Culture

It may sound like I am being a snob in this post. I admit to being accused of snobbery before -- and from a friend, who had a lot more reasons to be a snob than I did. Those are the accusations that one can trust! But it was a long time ago, actually when I was in college. I think that I have changed. In this regard, I see myself becoming more like my mother, who had an almost anti-snobbery about the important things in life. She was relieved to become a Catholic at least to a small degree to escape the embarrassing snobbery of the Episcopal Church. She liked the "here comes everybody" aspect of Catholicism. OK, I'm digressing.

Two things in the last couple of days have me thinking about the culture of Vanderbilt. One is Frannie Boyle, the gadfly of Vanderbilt. What are we going to do without Frannie next year? She comments on the culture of Vanderbilt in her final column in the Torch: "I love many things about Vanderbilt, and I especially love the people that I met. I have also seen the worst of Vanderbilt, though, and I can't wait to get the heck out of here." Frannie's offense is that she refused to play the "Emperor's New Clothes" about the predatory sexual culture that the Vanderbilt administration allows to thrive on campus. It is literally killing people, and she dared to speak out. She paid for it, too.

The other is a literal experience of culture. Last night on the way to and from a magnificent student performance of Mozart's Requiem, I was assaulted by Rites of Spring. What is an academic institution doing putting on something like that -- Rites of Spring, I mean? And usually right before exams? The Requiem was an event of true beauty. The excellence and coordination required are the cultural antithesis of the self-absorbed mess offered at Rites of Spring. The audience at the Requiem were drawn out of themselves to encounter the transcendent whereas the crowds at Rites were largely in a stupor. There were few at the Requiem and many at Rites. What kind of culture does Vanderbilt want?

In both of these instances, Vanderbilt is conforming to the predominant culture of radical autonomy rather than challenging it. True culture, however, transforms us and takes us out of ourselves -- it changes us.

14 April 2011

Pope's Spiritual Survival Kit

"What is the most essential? Essential is that no Sunday be left without an encounter with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist -- this is not a burden but light for the whole week. Never to begin or end a day without at least a brief contact with God. And, in the journey of our life, to follow 'road signs' that God has communicated to us in the Decalogue read with Christ, which is simply the definition of charity in specific situations."

13 April 2011

Christ in the Lab

Hawiger, Jacek's picture

One of the jewels of this year at Vanderbilt Catholic has been the inauguration of Faculty Fridays as a part of iFacts (Institute for Advancing Catholic Thought and Studies) under the direction of Chad Cunningham. These events have brought Catholic faculty members together with students to share the motivations of faith in their professional work. They have been great events.

The best of all, in my opinion, was last Friday night when Dr. Jacek Hawiger of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Medical School spoke on his research into treatments for Downs Syndrome. It was a masterful lecture on a complex topic delivered with passion. It was also the perfect manifestation of what I believe Faculty Fridays are supposed to be. It showed Jesus Christ in the lab.

Dr. Hawiger's science was all science and excellent science, without a dash of theology, but with a difference. It's passion and excellence derived from Dr. Hawiger's ultimate motives, which were plainly those of charity -- the Love of God. It was Jesus Christ in the lab.

On Sunday morning after Mass at the Cathedral, I confess to seeing Dr. Hawiger from the sacristy at prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Forgive me if I am disclosing a private moment, but what I saw was a man humbly and fervently in prayer before his God. This was prayer and not science, but the same passion was evident at this moment as in the lecture on Friday. There was no difference.

This is what it means to be secular: God loves the world and shows us how. Dr. Hawiger has learned the lesson well.

10 April 2011

Wishing Big

O Happy Fault! Yesterday our air conditioning drain backed up so that we had a wet spot on the carpet upstairs in the Frassati House. It seemed like a good idea to pull up the carpet just around the HVAC closet to see how to dry out the carpeting. Well, that was all the invitation that I needed to start ripping up carpet like a mad man. It helped that Chad was here both for the muscle and the madness factors. That carpet has been in my sights for a long time, but pulling up carpet is not something to be undertaken lightly so I have always backed down...until last night! So now the die is cast! Carpet is out of the hallway and chapel. The offices remain until I have a little more help -- my madness only went so far. So we are going to need to sand and refinish the floors. And first we are going to take the opportunity to paint as well. Very exciting and long overdue.

Here is where my divine madness begins: The renovation of the chapel. If we are going to be making changes anyway, why not take the opportunity to make the chapel more worthy for the Lord Jesus?

Our chapel in the house is in a converted bedroom -- and it looks like it, despite our loving efforts to make Our Lord's room suitable for Him. It has been repeatedly on my heart that we need to do better for Him. Although we are poor as can be and have many needs, I am moving the renovation of the chapel to the top of the list. As soon as I can get someone here with technical skills, I will show you some drawings. You see, I have not been idle waiting for this moment!

If you can help, here is what we need:
Altar $2,000
Ambo $1,500
Reredos $4,000
Benches $3,000
Sacristy $1,000
Shrine $2,000

Total $13,500 for structural renovations

09 April 2011

Best Life, Ever

Sometimes I cannot believe my blessings. This morning I woke up, as I often do, with a lot of things on my mind and lots of plans for the day. I tend to have a lot of energy in the morning but also a lot of worries. I came over to the Frassati House to get a few things ready for later in the day. It was about 5:30, I would guess. I heard someone come in the front door. Soon all of front rooms are full of about a dozen students, mainly freshmen, who are going to spend the day giving a confirmation retreat in Jackson, TN. They were so happy. One of the young men had been working on his Holy Spirit talk until 3:30 a.m. Amazing.

OK, somehow I think that I can handle a day that begins like this!

05 April 2011

The Tide is Turning: Students for Life of America

The Man Born Blind

Pope Benedict on Sunday's Gospel:

It is to be noted how a simple and sincere person, in a gradual way, sets out on the journey of faith: In a first moment he meets Jesus as a “man” among others, then he considers him a “prophet,” and in the end his eyes open and he proclaims him “Lord.” In opposition to the faith of the blind man there is the hardening of the hearts of the Pharisees who do not want to accept the miracle, because they refuse to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The crowd, instead, stops to debate about what happened and remains distant and indifferent. The parents themselves of the blind man are overcome by fear of the judgment of others.

And we, what attitude do we assume toward Jesus? We too, because of the sin of Adam, are born “blind,” but in the baptismal fount we were enlightened by the grace of Christ. Sin wounded humanity, destining it to the obscurity of death, but in Christ there shines the newness of life and the goal to which we are called. In him, reinvigorated by the Holy Spirit, we receive the strength to defeat evil and do good. In fact, the Christian life is a continually conforming to Christ, the image of the new man, to attain full communion with God. The Lord Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), because in him “there shines the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6) that continues to reveal in the complex plot of history the meaning of human existence.

I tried to say some the same things in my homily on Sunday, only not nearly so concisely, completely, and clearly! Too bad for the congregation :-(

03 April 2011

Why I Love Hearing Confessions...

Pope Benedict gives priests more direction about confession:

Dear priests, do not neglect to allow enough room for the exercise of the ministry of Penance in the confessional: to be welcomed and heard is also a human sign of God's welcoming kindness to his children. Moreover the integral confession of sins teaches the penitent humility, recognition of his or her own frailty and, at the same time, an awareness of the need for God's forgiveness and the trust that divine Grace can transform his life. Likewise, listening to the confessor's recommendations and advice is important for judging actions, for the spiritual journey and for the inner healing of the penitent.

Let us not forget how many conversions and how many truly holy lives began in a confessional! The acceptance of the penance and listening to the words "I absolve you from your sins", are, lastly, a true school of love and hope that guides the person to full trust in the God Love, revealed in Jesus Christ, to responsibility and to the commitment to continuous conversion.

Dear priests, our own prior experience of divine Mercy and of being humble instruments teaches us an ever more faithful celebration of the Sacrament of Penance and profound gratitude to God who "gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18).

"A true school of love and hope."