28 September 2012

Last post? A Valediction

This may well be the last post on the Vandy+Catholic blog.  We have to leave that name behind by October 1 so this seems to be a good time to reboot!

I have to say that I am not reluctant to leave the Vanderbilt name behind.  The concept of "Vanderbilt Catholic" becomes more and more oxymoronic.  Obsessed as it is with rankings, the university can now claim to be top ten -- not in academics or athletics but in partying, determined by no less of an authority than Playboy magazine.

The culture of student life at Vanderbilt is generally unhealthy and in many particulars corresponds with the culture of death.  The Gospel of life proposed by the Catholic Church gives the fulness of life.  A Christian at Vanderbilt needs to leave the one and to embrace the other.  I had a powerful experience at Mass yesterday: what I would call practically a mystical experience, at least it seemed so this this very mundane man.  After the ablutions following Holy Communion, I returned the the chair as the servers finished clearing the altar.  The light was beautiful in the Cathedral, as it often is.  As I looked up at the clerestory, I thought that I could see the beauty of the Christian life actually lived: the beauty of the virtues of chastity, patience, generosity, meekness, and all the rest being lived in the lives of the students sitting in the congregation in front of me.  What a world that would be!

Earlier in the week, Vanderbilt had brought to campus the author of the freshman summer reading book who is proposing solutions to be truly horrific reality of human trafficking in our world.  This a very laudable effort.  But some of the "solutions" proposed are just the same old traps of the culture of death rehashed, in particular the spread of artificial contraception.  Hers is not a noble quest using such means.

The virtuous life is possible.  The Gospel of life can be lived.  It is not spread through public policy but by conversion.  I was advising a young man not to go to Washington for an internship but to do something more personal.  I am convinced that it was only by the grace of God that I did not go to Washington as a young man to be chewed up and spit out as Washington does so well to idealistic young men and women.  I told him that if he decided to go to have an exit strategy in mind before he went.  A couple of very dear alums have escaped the Beltway in this way.  This young man in particular is too real for the artificiality of Washington.

Conversion is not a mass movement.  It happens person to person: cor ad cor, as Bl. John Henry Newman's motto proclaims.  That is what makes it so hard.  We must freely choose to obey, rather than to settle: "if you love me, keep my commandments." 

25 September 2012

What's missing?

What is missing from this column in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the newspaper at Penn?  In an article written by a cultural Catholic, there is no mention of Jesus Christ.  Although the author is obviously conflicted about her "conversion" to agnosticism, her experience of Catholicism has been cultural and not personal.

Let's keep proposing Jesus Christ!

22 September 2012

Please Read This Link!

Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles begins a series of articles on voting according to a Catholic Conscience.  If the first installment is any indication, this series is a MUST read.  He lays down the principles with clarity and with authority, not like the politicians.  The most important point is not on this or that issue but on the totality of putting on the mind of Christ and thinking with the Church.

Go read it.

17 September 2012

Ancient Faith

As I have said before, the Catholic part of our name is the ancient part and the eternal part.  Long after this university is in ruins, the Catholic Church will still be around.  So have no fear, we are trying to be as faithfully Catholic as we can be, even if Vanderbilt considers us unfaithful as a student organization!

The weekend was a good case-in-point.  On Friday afternoon, a small group of students went to Bordeaux -- no, not the south of France, but north Nashville -- to begin serving at St. Pius School.  That is definitely outside the Vanderbubble!  In the evening, we hosted our first Twilight Retreat.  This one was for freshmen.  It was a good start to Friday night!

Yesterday was another holy sabbath, with delicious homemade Sunday Supper, holy hour, and Holy Mass.  It is great to see so many people at Mass.

Happy Monday!

14 September 2012

New Name

Well, we have finally done it: decided on a new name.  It's harder than you think.

We are now University Catholic -- UCat for short!

It is pretty generic, but it is easy to remember.  It also opens up our mission to all university students, not just Vanderbilt ones.

I would have liked to bring in our heavenly patron, Bl. Pier Giorgio or Bl. John Henry Newman, but we went for brevity instead.  I hope that they will still be praying for us!

I ask the same of you!

09 September 2012

Grace Abhors a Vacuum!

OK -- that post yesterday was pretty gloomy!

I am not suggesting that good things don't happen at Vanderbilt too.  Of course they do.  But what sort of meaning do even those good things have ultimately?  I have been to too many funerals of professors whose work has now been superseded.

Now is what matters.  Pray for us now... And grace is what makes now matter.  Full of grace.  Now is the time...to love...anything or anyone that is before us: homework or a sad hallmate; a Friday night with friends or a call to my parents.  Those are actually of eternal significance, if done for and with Love!

08 September 2012


There is a terrible vacuum at Vanderbilt.  The university is a wasteland when it comes to giving any sort of plan for living a good life.  Looking at the campus crime report from last weekend, one sees intoxication, mixed with throwing up and passing out, over and over again until one reaches the final entry of rape.

If you want a more visual experience, go drive around Greek row tonight -- or better early tomorrow morning.  Look not only at the mobs of drunken people but also in the shadows at the ones crying or trying to make themselves throw up.  What are they looking for so desperately?

Is this desperation what Vanderbilt wants for its students?  The truth is that Vanderbilt has nothing to offer it students to give any meaning to the grind that they put themselves through to be here.

The sealed vacuum of Vanderbilt must be punctured; it must "be opened," as Jesus commands in the Gospel for this weekend.  When we are opened, we see that He "does all things well."  All aspects of our lives are enriched by Him.

But it is not easy to break out of secularism's vacuum of value, meaning and purpose.  We are made for more.  We need to be opened to the transcendence of Jesus Christ, imminent in all things.

05 September 2012

Human Formation

In the Community of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, we see ourselves as a house of formation, in a very loose sense.  Formation is actually what we offer.  We organize ourselves according to four pillars of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and apostolic.

But what is formation?  Formation is the idea that we need structure, guidance, and practice in coming to maturity as human beings.  Formation is the development of the interior life according to the wisdom found in tradition.  Formation is thus a foreign concept to American culture, which is so individualistic and activist.

It is a hard sell!  Self-help, "spiritual but not religious," self-directed study, social media and entrepreneurship are catch words of our culture that resist the docility to traditional wisdom necessary to undergo formation.  There is, of course, an individual element to formation.  Each person is actually his own formation director.  But we grow in formation to the extent that we are docile to the traditional wisdom proven and given to us through the crucible of human experience.

It is easy to see what formation means in a spiritual setting.  It means living the sacramental life.  It means following the wisdom of a proven path of prayer and asceticism.  Intellectual formation is also pretty clear: scripture, creeds, the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church give us a clear path of intellectual formation.  Apostolic formation requires some technique to share the Gospel or to share a meal, but the impulse is one of spiritual generosity.  But just what is human formation?  It is the most fundamental of all, and without it we are stunted in all other areas.  It is the art of living the good and virtuous life.

Human formation is about living well.  But even that concept is distorted in our American society to mean living extravagantly.  Human formation is learned from contact with wise men and women, who themselves have been well-formed.  It is about the day to day death to self that they practice every day.  We have constructed a society that almost prevents us from sustaining the contacts necessary for good human formation.  Families are driven to distraction by activities and work.  Schools are chopped up into so many programs.  Churches are activity centers, if they are in the picture at all.  Neighborhoods -- what is a neighborhood?

Human formation requires us to be.  To be accepted -- by other people.  To be challenged -- by other people.  To be with other people.  We learn what is kind, generous, thoughtful, and noble from other people.  We start to choose other people's needs to our desires.  We start to live well.

I hope that Frassati House becomes a center of human formation, where we take the time to be with each other and for each other.  Where we unplug.  Where we get off the treadmill of agenda and manipulation.  Our heavenly patron, Bl. Pier Giorgio is an excellent example of the humanly well formed man.  Get to know him better!

01 September 2012

Meet the People!

If there is one lesson of evangelization that I want to teach the students here in the Community of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati it's: MEET THE PEOPLE!  All the planning in the world and all the promotion in the world and all the events in the world are pointless as evangelization unless one meets the people.  Invite, invite, invite!  Be where the people are, talk to them, invite them, bring them!  Facebook friending won't do it!

Growing up in a small Tennessee town, I was accustomed to the first question that anyone asked you was where you went to church.  My parents were constantly asking people to come to church with us or greeting people who were new at church and asking them to a meal or offering them a ride.  And I grew up an Episcopalian!

Every member of the Community of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati should always come to Mass, Adoration, or any Frassati event with someone they have invited.  We should always speak first to anyone at Mass or at any event who is unknown.  We should always follow up with an invitation of some sort.

More than anything evangelization is a habit -- like most things in life.  Form a habit of the heart to share Jesus personally.  Meet the people!

Here is a good article on good campus ministry.
Notice where meeting the people is on the list:  #1!