26 May 2011

Pentecost Novena for Bishop Choby!

Inspired, I hope, by the Holy Spirit, I want to ask you to join in praying the Pentecost Novena for the intentions of our good Bishop: The Most Rev. David Choby! (see earlier post) Since he is a successor to the apostles, I think it would be appropriate to ask for the Holy Spirit to fall upon him anew, as at the first Pentecost. When he is blessed, we are blessed!

Wrestlng with God

As you may know, Pope Benedict has begun a series of talks on prayer at his Wednesday audiences. (This is the same context in which Bl. John Paul II developed the talks that became the Theology of the Body.) In the talk yesterday, Pope Benedict gives an explanation of one of those tricky Old Testament passages as an image of prayer: Jacob's wrestling match with God. I encourage you to read it, not only for the insight into prayer but also to see the Pope's method.

Pope Benedict shows once again what a masterful teacher he is. He takes this problematic figure of Jacob (you know, the one who tricked his brother into giving up his birthright and his father into giving his blessing) and explains what it all means. He does not gloss over the hard parts, but he won't let go until he has shown how Jacob's experience, so unlike our own, actually reveals our relationship with God to us.

Pope Benedict has a wonderful balance of scholarship and faith. In my experience, scholars point out the difficulties of a passage but do not push on to resolution; they raise questions but do not show the way to answers. This can open the door to doubts. Other commentators will simply ignore the difficulties and come to easy answers. This approach is intellectually unsatisfying because it leads one think that one can't really ask questions or think about matters of faith. Pope Benedict lets his scholarship bring up all the hard questions and lets his faith compel him to come to resolution. At the end, one is thankful to this great teacher for not only raising questions but for showing a way to answers that are adequate to the questions.

Go see for yourself.

19 May 2011

If you are not bored enough already...

I have decided to separate out my more personal ruminations from the Vandy+Catholic blog. In the odd chance that you are interested in such things, you can go to Finer Than A Frog's Hair.

Spiritual Pillar

"As she has never failed to do, again today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction, not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord up close, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ," the Pope stated. "Everyone, in fact, and in a particular way all those who have received the divine call to a closer following, needs to be supported personally by a sure guide in doctrine and expert in the things of God." -- Pope Benedict XVI

My personal goal this summer is to continue to develop almost a "spiritual curriculum" for Vanderbilt Catholic, analogous to the educational curriculum which Chad is developing for iFacts. These will be practical ways of implementing the spiritual and intellectual pillars of formation which support the Vanderbilt Catholic mission. This year, I was able to offer more opportunities for spiritual direction, and I want to continue to do so. I am thinking that perhaps small "oratory" groups might be a way to introduce common themes in spiritual formation in a slightly larger setting, which could lead to individual direction. The problem I foresee is the need for more directors. Please help me to complete this vision and to be able to implement it. I agree with the Holy Father that spiritual formation is for everyone and that ultimately means individual direction.

18 May 2011

Connect the Dots


In reflecting more on Luke Wilgenbusch's valedictory address at the Father Ryan High School graduation, I was thinking about some of the influences that had help to form this remarkable young man and this remarkable event. The influence of Fraternus was very evident. A number of mentors from Fraternus were at the graduation. Luke cited Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati as a role model, including mentioning our very own Frassati House. A line of "dots" was starting to appear which seemed to lead to the smiling man above: The Most Rev. David Choby, Bishop of Nashville.

Thank you, Bishop Choby. Your visionary leadership and confidence in the future of the Church is bringing about such positive changes as this valedictory! Just wait until the Choby seminarians become the Choby priests in the diocese!

17 May 2011

Best Valedictory, Ever

On Sunday afternoon, I heard the best valedictory address, ever. Luke Wilgenbusch graduated as valedictorian of his class at Father Ryan High School here in Nashville. The graduation in all other ways was completely conventional, well at least for a Catholic school. We did pray, after all! (I should not take that for granted.)

Then Luke spoke. All conventionality went out of the window. He was not even unconventional in a conventional way. You know, the smart edgy high school rebel. Or the fundamentalist way of giving a call to salvation, that, although predictable, makes everyone uncomfortable.

No -- Luke spoke as his own man, from his own identity which he has discovered most radically in Jesus Christ encountered in the communion of the Catholic Church. Luke Wilgenbusch has been revealed to himself by Jesus Christ. That is what he shared with us with authenticity and vulnerability. I hope his classmates were listening. I hope that we all were listening. I hope that Father Ryan High School will see that this address is posted widely. It should go viral!

14 May 2011

The Need for Vanderbilt Catholic

I was at Vanderbilt's graduation yesterday. It left me depressed. In the first place, it was kind of a mess because it had to be moved inside because of the weather. The Chancellor's address, in my opinion, was far from stellar. The most substantial things he had to say were references to John Dewey, of all people! The Chancellor was extolling the fact that a Vanderbilt education is about the facts. Getting the facts. That and not putting up stupid things on FaceBook. I do not jest.

Don't get me wrong; I am all for facts. (I feel vindicated in naming our intellectual formation curriculum iFacts!) But what to do with the facts? Vanderbilt does not offer the slightest clue. Here are the values the university creed has to offer: scholarship, honesty, civility, accountability, caring, discovery, and celebration. Well, I guess there is some guidance in practical living that Vanderbilt does not advocate mayhem and pillage.

There is no "how" attached to any of these values. And how is exactly what the students of the university need. How is what Vanderbilt Catholic supplies: formation is what we call it. There has to be a living way to pass from vague values to virtuous deeds. We dare to say that that living way is Jesus Christ followed in His Church. Hence the picture at the top!

12 May 2011

From the sublime to the ridiculous

Well, I thought that we needed a little lightening up in the posting department so I thought I would introduce you to my namesake, John Sims, the frog.

It's all in the life of a university chaplain: "finer than...

10 May 2011

Now Let Us Praise Famous Women

This is a topic that I would rather not face. Kristi Bentley, my administrative assistant, is leaving her position at Vanderbilt Catholic for family reasons. See picture -- it is worth at least a thousand words. I am so grateful to Kristi for so much. I literally do not know what I would have done without her.

For my first year here, I was totally on my own. Although very happy to be at Vanderbilt, I was really lost and frustrated down deep. I tried to keep smiling! I wanted Vanderbilt Catholic to be everything that it could be. The big problem was that there was just me. Then came Kristi, and everything got better -- especially me!

Kristi was exactly what we needed. Of course, she is organized and on top of things -- a big necessity when I can't even organize a two-car funeral procession! And incredibly cheerful to boot, even with morning sickness :-) Most importantly Kristi embraced our mission before we even knew what it was: proposing Jesus Christ and forming His disciples. Kristi has a spiritual maturity so far beyond her years! She did so much spiritual counseling "on the sly," particularly for the chaplain.

She keeps saying that she "loves her job." I have to confess that she has been overworked and underpaid -- welcome to the Church! Kristi -- remember that you can call in just about any favor at any time from me. I owe it to you. You have helped me in my mission here, and you have helped me to grow through some difficult times. You developed the marriage preparation retreat that I have always wanted to offer since I became a priest. And on and on. You have a bigger and better job to do, but we will miss you here!

St. Damian of Molokai, priest


I am not a big fan of modern art, but the boxiness of this statue was explained to me. St. Damian in the advanced stages of his leprosy wore a frame under his cassock to keep the fabric from touching his skin. What a priest!

Here is a selection from the office of readings for the Common of Pastors (Presbyterorum ordinis, chapter 3, 12):

The Vocation of Priests to the Life of Perfection

12. Priests are made in the likeness of Christ the Priest by the Sacrament of Orders, so that they may, in collaboration with their bishops, work for the building up and care of the Church which is the whole Body of Christ, acting as ministers of him who is the Head. Like all other Christians they have received in the sacrament of Baptism the symbol and gift of such a calling and such grace that even in human weakness(1) they can and must seek for perfection, according to the exhortation of Christ: "Be you therefore perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). Priests are bound, however, to acquire that perfection in special fashion. They have been consecrated by God in a new manner at their ordination and made living instruments of Christ the Eternal Priest that they may be able to carry on in time his marvelous work whereby the entire family of man is again made whole by power from above.(2) Since, therefore, every priest in his own fashion acts in place of Christ himself, he is enriched by a special grace, so that, as he serves the flock committed to him and the entire People of God, he may the better grow in the grace of him whose tasks he performs, because to the weakness of our flesh there is brought the holiness of him who for us was made a High Priest "holy, guiltless, undefiled not reckoned among us sinners" (Heb 7:26).

Christ, whom the Father sanctified, consecrated and sent into the world,(3) "gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and cleanse for himself an acceptable people, pursuing good works" (Tt 2:14), and thus through suffering entered into his glory.(4) In like fashion, priests consecrated by the anointing of the Holy Spirit and sent by Christ must mortify the works of the flesh in themselves and give themselves entirely to the service of men. It is in this way that they can go forward in that holiness with which Christ endows them to perfect man.(5)

Hence, those who exercise the ministry of the spirit and of justice(6) will be confirmed in the life of the spirit, so long as they are open to the Spirit of Christ, who gives them life and direction. By the sacred actions which are theirs daily as well as by their entire ministry which they share with the bishop and their fellow priests, they are directed to perfection in their lives. Holiness does much for priests in carrying on a fruitful ministry. Although divine grace could use unworthy ministers to effect the work of salvation, yet for the most part God chooses, to show forth his wonders, those who are more open to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, and who can by reason of their close union with Christ and their holiness of life say with St. Paul: "And yet I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me" (Gal 2:20).

09 May 2011

There be Dragons

I just got back from seeing There be Dragons which was better than I thought it would be. I would definitely recommend seeing it.

I am sure that as a priest, especially as a priest who works with university students, I have an unusual take on the movie. It was a painfully good example of what I am supposed to be. In that respect, the movie was very helpful to me. It called me to conversion. It also helped me to see again the beauty of my life. I hope that I am not being too vain in saying this, but I feel that students here would care for me -- actually do care for me -- in a way somewhat similar to the way that the students cared for St. Josemaria. I am not too good at seeing much good in myself (just ask Tala), and the movie actually helped me to see some fleeting shadows of a saint in myself, although I should be much holier. I guess what I mean to say is that the movie has inspired me to begin again at being the saint that God created me to be: a saint right here at Vanderbilt Catholic.

Well, if my last several posts had you wondering about my mental stability, then this one puts all doubt to rest!

P.S. After sleeping (and I did sleep!) on the movie and talking with Geoff Smith, I think that I would say that I really liked the parts about St. Josemaria. I think that they made a saint believable, even self-flagellation! But the other part was pretty muddled. OK -- there's my two-cent's worth. Still I would recommend seeing the movie.

08 May 2011


I can't believe how hard it is to catch up on rest! It's hard work, but I am managing it :-) I am not complaining at all about this semester, but it has been tremendously busy. I really have not been sleeping as I should. In the last couple of days, I have been able to get to bed earlier and sleep later, but it has not been as easy as I would have thought. This morning, I woke up pretty early. By the time my holy hour was finished, I was wiped out and so I went back to sleep for a while. I am gradually feeling better.

Take care of order, and order will take care of you. That mysterious quotation is accurate. My sleep has been disordered. Some of my affections have been disordered. One pays for the disorder eventually. Fortunately my prayer life has been basically ordered, or I don't know where I would be now. Lord, let me begin again with order!


On a college campus, there is no topic that gets you more traction than "relationships." We joke that you can draw a crowd for any event, so long as you throw in the words, "and dating." For example: A talk entitled "The Precepts of the Church...and Dating" would be a standing room only event. I only partially jest :-) So please do not think that I am using such tactics in this post today -- and in the homily for Mass today -- just to drum up some business on our "low Sunday." Would I do such a thing? --Don't answer that question!

I am looking at the gospel of the disciples on the road to Emmaus for the third time already this Easter season so maybe I am stretching, but I think that I have good precedent for considering this gospel in terms of relationships. Dorothy Sayers (Chad, don't tune me out now!) offered the idea that the disciples were Cleopas and Mrs. Cleopas! More usefully for us, Fr. Cassian Folsom proposes the idea that the Emmaus disciples offer an icon of Christian relationship, as seen by Blessed Angelico. (Unbelievably, I cannot find an image of this fresco to post. If you come to Mass today, I will give you one ;-))

In this fresco by Bl. Angelico, the disciples, who are dressed as Dominicans -- the original is after all in a Dominican house -- are on one side; and Jesus is on the other. The disciples contact each other in their focus on Jesus. They are not looking at each other but at Him. It is a good image of the love of friendship as described by C. S. Lewis, except in this case the friendship is explicitly Christian. Christ is that "something" outside of the self that brings the friends together. Like so many of Fra Angelico's other frescos this one has a message for its original setting. In religious life, "particular friendships" are destructive to community life. So this is a good lesson for the brothers who would have originally seen the fresco as how to befriend each other. But the lesson is much wider.

Earlier in the story, the disciples are either looking down or looking at each other in their misery. It is getting them nowhere. As a matter of fact, they seem to be losing what little faith they have, and they have deserted their community. They need to be pulled out of themselves. This is when Jesus comes along. As they enter more into relationship with Him, even asking Him to stay with them, they find their joy again. After that ultimate intimacy of communion in the "breaking of the bread," they rush back to communion with the community that they had left behind in the isolation of their sadness. This is Christian friendship as it should be.

I think that potentially marital relationships -- the kind that young college men and women are pursuing -- are essentially friendships. Or ought to be. The "need" aspect of eros should be carefully regulated until much later. It might help for "falling in love" but not for much else until marriage itself. Otherwise, the love of friendship is the best love for dating. It gives freedom to ask the questions that need to be asked for marriage, an act of ultimate freedom. If one is already wrapped up in neediness for the beloved, especially when reinforced by physical arousal, then freedom has already gone out the window. If a couple has already committed exclusively to one another even in the sacrificial love of agape, then freedom is compromised. Eros and exclusive agape must wait until marriage! Only friendship gives what is needed: communion (not yet exclusive) and detachment.

I hope that this is not too much of a leap from the text! And I hope that you do not think that I am crazy. I realize that my ideas on this topic are not in the mainstream, which likes to propose emotionalism as the criterion for relationships. I see relationships as part of Christian discipleship that should follow the same rules. All is not fair in love. We are still Christians, even when we are in love. The disciples on the road to Emmaus show us that our relationships with each other are best when following Jesus and living in His community.

07 May 2011

Proposing Jesus Christ...

Now I will write about the procession. I am so grateful to Joe Konopa for the really extraordinarily beautiful pictures of the Eucharistic Procession. Like all true art, they need no explanation.

The procession was an experience of trust. There was fear on the part of some of the students about the procession. What would it mean? Were we doing it more or less to show off? Would the Blessed Sacrament be safe from being profaned or, perhaps worse, ignored? Would the procession merely be a stunt, to say that we did it? These were legitimate concerns. In the end, I decided to risk it; and I think that the procession avoided these pitfalls.

To me, the procession was the physical manifestation of what Vanderbilt Catholic has been doing all year: following Jesus Christ visibly on campus. The effects have been both broad and deep. Frankly, for the most part, the presence of Jesus on campus has passed unnoticed. But for those who have noticed, I think that His presence has been intriguing. And for the few who have followed, His presence has become profound. I think that we saw all of this in the procession. Look at the faces of the students looking out of the window of the Biomedical Library. Look at the faces of the students in the procession.

I also saw a living icon of Vanderbilt Catholic. The whole thing formed up around Jesus Christ. I am there to be lost in the trappings of holding him up. Student leaders, FOCUS missionaries, Chad, offer light and honor and love to Him. We all pass incongruously but beautifully through the secularity of Vanderbilt offering a complimentary light and presence. We were on His way.

06 May 2011

Empty Frassati House

Wow, it's happened. It is quiet in the house. It always catches me off guard. I keep running "full tilt" until the end, and then it is the end. And quiet. I have to admit that it is a little sad for me, but that is the life of a university chaplain. There is actually work to be done and people to see, but it is not as lively!

Procession Pictures


Thanks to Joe Konopa for the pictures!

04 May 2011

Ending Well.

How could I have forgotten to mention about the Eucharistic Procession on Sunday night -- on campus! I will write more later and maybe post pictures.

Please pray for a big intention today!

03 May 2011

One small step

I am blogging from my iPad. And praying from it too, as of yesterday!

Things are looking up all around. Over the last few days, I was sinking into being physically sick, but I can tell that I am getting better without hitting bottom. As I get older, I don't get sick as much - just meaner :-) And there is more peace inside too. There has been an ugly battle raging there, but I don't think I fell off the edge of that one either. It is now a little like the time after tornado sirens stop: still some weather but altogether better.

Yesterday was a good "time out."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad