Until 2015

I write you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears. — 2 Cor. 2:4

That’s a dramatic opening statement, I know. I know also that applying it to my Blog writing may seem absurdly excessive. Maybe so. But, though I am at peace with the decision because of its clarity, it’s the experience I had within as I discerned and decided this summer that I needed to stop blogging, at least for 2014, to attend with more undivided attention to the increasingly weighty responsibilities of work and home.

Exhaustion is a great teacher.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. — CS Lewis

As I said in June, and have said before too many times, this Blog is a nearly unparalleled joy for me. It’s my theological playground where my faith-in-quest mind is allowed a free reign it’s not allowed even when I teach — I can blow where the Spirit wills in an unfettered way. I have also experienced a deep sense of communion with those who think with me on this Blog — who read and pray and wrestle with the thoughts I offer. Thank you for enriching my mind and heart by lending your own to that which is my life’s passion: to become a sacramental sign for seekers of the Word made fresh.

Again, if you put your email in the subscription window to the right you will receive my Blogs again when I return. I will, God willing, begin again 1/1/15. May the eternal God bless you with all good things, especially through the intercession of today’s O.P. saint, St. Dominic Guzmán!

I’ll leave you with a piece of sage advice a priest friend shared with me earlier this summer that will continue to daily call me back to the One Thing Necessary.


I keep trying to call myself back to his, many times failing in the task. Then I try to make my failure part of my prayer. Nevertheless, what Benedict XVI said to priests applies to all vocations.  Have a fruitful and restful bloggus interuptus.

“Dear brother priests, if your faith is to be strong and vigorous, as you well know, it must be nourished with assiduous prayer. Thus be models of prayer, become masters of prayer. May your days be marked by times of prayer, during which, after Jesus’ example, you engage in a regenerating conversation with the Father. I know it is not easy to stay faithful to this daily appointment with the Lord, especially today when the pace of life is frenetic and worries absorb us more and more. Yet we must convince ourselves: the time he spends in prayer is the most important time in a priest’s life, in which divine grace acts with greater effectiveness, making his ministry fruitful. The first service to render to the community is prayer. And therefore, time for prayer must be given a true priority in our life. I know that there are many urgent things: as regards myself, an audience, a document to study, a meeting or something else. But if we are not interiorly in communion with God we cannot even give anything to others. Therefore, God is the first priority. We must always reserve the time necessary to be in communion of prayer with our Lord.”




Cathedral of Brindisi

Sunday, 15 June 2008


In the love of Christ,

Dr. Tom

Taken from usatoday.net

Summer hiatus (June 14 – August 14)

{if you wish to receive posts again when I resume, please feel free to submit your email over here —>}

A random “Far Side” comic that well sums my deepest math-phobic fears. Taken from calculushumor.com

This is my 897th post since I began. Hard to believe. My son said to me the other day when he saw me typing, “Dad, that your Blog?” “Yes,” I replied. “Don’t you ever run out of things to say?” I said, “Well, why don’t you read them and tell me if I do.”

I have discerned that the Lord is calling me to a hefty bloggus interruptus, and though it sounds sinful I promise it’s not. It is a grief for me to stop, and a friend of mine warned me that I will probably lose a lot of readers. I have family vacays coming up, I am teaching a course in July on Liturgy and priestly spirituality, I am leading 2 retreats, I am preparing for a new course to teach this Fall at the seminary (Pastoral Theology) and bracing for a new year as Academic Dean (administerium meum est ad mortem). Then there’s sleep and such.

Discernment very often is about judging limits that protect one’s own personal limitations and primary vocational responsibilities. Such limits ensure that I do not become unfaithful to the few good things God is calling me to do by doing other good things He is not calling me to do. It’s among the Evil One’s favorite tactics, and the one most easily rationalized.

Right Gratitude

I truly love this template. It permits me to paint on a digital canvas the theological storm that swirls about on my “inscape,” mostly within my imagination. As I frequently say, I am never not amazed that people find in Neal Obstat a source of spiritual nourishment. For me, there is no higher purpose I could imagine for any of my theological work than for it to become viaticum, food for the journey to our Father’s house. Deo gratias, “Thanks be to God”!

I must say that since I began writing this Blog in 2010 I have had more fresh theological insights than in the previous twenty-something years of theological study combined. Part of that is the natural gift that comes with the discipline of writing — as you write, you express and create ideas. But another part, I am convinced, is that the impulse to write daily, the superabundance of fresh insights, flows (on better days) from the Lord for you. So many times this or that idea will seize me in the midst of a relatively innocuous task – taking out the garbage, sitting in a budget committee meeting or while I’m taking a shower (tmi) — and it will not leave me alone until I write it here and edit it for posting. Not in an oppressive way, but with a gentle insistence that remains until the task is completed. Now and again, some kind reader will leave a comment that affirms they “needed” a certain message, or received a certain grace from what was said in a post. That makes it all worth the labor.

In this, I find confirmed again and again a truth my first spiritual director drilled into me long ago:

Tom, if people some day compliment you on your work, on your teaching, and they thank you for this or that grace they received through you, I want you to say to yourself at once, “How much God must love them to give me these gifts!” Because any gift you have been given is not about you, Tom, it’s about them; it’s for them. If you make the gifts about you, think you’re special because you have them, then those gifts are ruined and they will become the very reason for your condemnation. But if you make them about others, then they will sanctify you. Remember what I told you: the premier sign of holiness is humility; and the premier sign of humility is that others’ needs and welfare populate your thoughts more than your own do. And remember, if God can speak through Balaam’s jackass [Numbers 22:21-39] he can even speak through you…

A new patron saint.

“Balaam and the Ass,” Pieter Lastman 1622. Taken from morenormalthannot.com


If I might ask 2 final favors from you:

1. Who are you? Though I enjoy immensely the steady stream of comments from a core of a dozen or so friends and other people whom I feel I know a bit, I always wonder who is out there on the digital continent reading. If you could leave a brief comment here sharing who you are, I would be grateful!

2. Kindly pray for me and my family. I will include you in my daily prayer for a new Pentecost:

Father in heaven,
renew your wonders in our time,
as though by a new Pentecost,
by sending down your Spirit upon us.
Grant that by the same Spirit
your holy Church in [name your diocese],
praying with one mind and one heart
together with Mary, the Mother of Jesus,
and guided by Sts. John XXIII and John Paul the Great,
may make present in our world
the kingdom of your Divine Son:
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. Amen.

[I adapted this from Archdiocese of Detroit prayer found here]

Yad Vashem

Let me leave you two texts — (1) Pope Francis’ awe-inspiring words spoken at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial during his recent journey to the Holy Land and (2) Pope Benedict’s equally awe-inspiring words spoken at Auschwitz (which I have posted before). Note the remarkably different, yet complementary, vantage each takes on the same mysterium iniquitatis, “mystery of evil.”


Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
Visit to the Memorial of Yad Vashem
Jerusalem, 26 May 2014

“Adam, where are you?” (cf. Gen 3:9).
Where are you, o man? What have you come to?
In this place, this memorial of the Shoah, we hear God’s question echo once more:
“Adam, where are you?”
This question is charged with all the sorrow of a Father who has lost his child.
The Father knew the risk of freedom; he knew that his children could be lost…
yet perhaps not even the Father could imagine so great a fall, so profound an abyss!
Here, before the boundless tragedy of the Holocaust,
That cry – “Where are you?” – echoes like a faint voice in an unfathomable abyss…
Adam, who are you? I no longer recognize you.
Who are you, o man? What have you become?
Of what horror have you been capable?
What made you fall to such depths?
Certainly it is not the dust of the earth from which you were made.
The dust of the earth is something good, the work of my hands.
Certainly it is not the breath of life which I breathed into you.
That breath comes from me, and it is something good (cf. Gen 2:7).
No, this abyss is not merely the work of your own hands, your own heart…
Who corrupted you? Who disfigured you?
Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil?
Who convinced you that you were god?
Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters,
but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god.
Today, in this place, we hear once more the voice of God:
“Adam, where are you?”
From the ground there rises up a soft cry: “Have mercy on us, O Lord!”
To you, O Lord our God, belongs righteousness;
but to us confusion of face and shame (cf. Bar 1:15).
A great evil has befallen us, such as never happened under the heavens (cf. Bar 2:2).
Now, Lord, hear our prayer, hear our plea, save us in your mercy.
Save us from this horror.
Almighty Lord, a soul in anguish cries out to you.
Hear, Lord, and have mercy!
We have sinned against you. You reign for ever (cf. Bar 3:1-2).
Remember us in your mercy.
Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done,
to be ashamed of this massive idolatry,
of having despised and destroyed our own flesh
which you formed from the earth,
to which you gave life with your own breath of life.
Never again, Lord, never again!
“Adam, where are you?”
Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man,
created in your own image and likeness,
was capable of doing.
Remember us in your mercy.

Address by Pope Benedict XVI
Auschwitz-Birkenau, 28 May 2006

To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible —and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a Pope from Germany. In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence — a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?

In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.

I had to come. It is a duty before the truth and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of Pope John Paul II and as a son of the German people — a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.

This is the same reason why I have come here today: to implore the grace of reconciliation — first of all from God, who alone can open and purify our hearts, from the men and women who suffered here, and finally the grace of reconciliation for all those who, at this hour of our history, are suffering in new ways from the power of hatred and the violence which hatred spawns.

How many questions arise in this place! Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?

The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, Israel’s lament for its woes: “You have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness … because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep,O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For we sink down tothe dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up, come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!” (Psalm 44:19,22-26).

This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering, at moments of deep distress, is also the cry for help raised by all those who in every age — yesterday, today and tomorrow — suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness. How many they are, even in our own day!

We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan — we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No — when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature!

And our cry to God must also be a cry that pierces our very heart, a cry that awakens within us God’s hidden presence — so that his power, the power he has planted in our hearts, will not be buried or choked within us by the mire of selfishness, pusillanimity, indifference or opportunism.

Let us cry out to God, with all our hearts, at the present hour, when new misfortunes befall us, when all the forces of darkness seem to issue anew from human hearts: whether it is the abuse of God’s name as a means of justifying senseless violence against innocent persons, or the cynicism which refuses to acknowledge God and ridicules faith in him.

Let us cry out to God, that he may draw men and women to conversion and help them to see that violence does not bring peace, but only generates more violence — a morass of devastation in which everyone is ultimately the loser.

Pope Benedict XVI entering the Auschwitz camp. Taken from bp.blogspot.com

Pope Francis praying at the eternal flame, Yad Vashem. Taken from yadvashem.org

My wife, conception, Tori, Sinéad O’Connor and other unrelated items


A rose in our “Mary Garden.”

Today I’d like to leave a smattering of miscellaneous insights that have been hanging around in my head the last few weeks. I’m trying to get these final ideas out today, which makes this one a “doozy,” but I will soon give you a doozy-break. I do hope these thoughts lift you a bit.

1. B-Day! Today is my wife’s birthday. For those who know her, if you leave a comment I will share it with her. Birthdays are big deals. The Church gets enthused about nativities and still has not tired of celebrating them after two thousand years — Our Lord, Our Lady, St. John the Baptist. The Church also celebrates conceptions — Our Lord on 3/25, Our Lady on 12/8, St. John the Baptist (in the Orthodox Church) on 9/23. That would be something, eh? Hey, happy conception day! The icons for the 3 conceptions are super-cool:

“Annunciation,” 12th century St. Catherine’s Monastery In Egypt’s Sinai. Taken from http://www.touregypt.net

“Conception of the Mother of God” showing Sts. Joachim and Anne embracing. Taken from glory2godforallthings.com

“Conception of St. John the Baptist” showing Sts. Zechariah and Elizabeth embracing with St. John off to the side. Taken from images.oca.org

Please pray this Orthodox blessing for Patti this day:

Grant, O Lord, a prosperous life, health, salvation, furtherance in all good things, and all Thy blessings to Thy handmaid and protect her for many years. Amen.

2. Cantare amantis est. You know I love, and am all about, Catholics who boldly cast the seeds of Christ into contemporary culture; especially into music culture. Well, I happened to cross paths last week with a young lady who’s doing this with gusto: Tori Harris. Tori is, as her website (here) says it, “bridging the gap between ancient tradition and contemporary worship music…is part of a wave of vibrant young Catholics who are committed to communicating the richness of the Catholic faith to a new generation of the faithful.” She reminds me very much of Colleen Nixon, whom I have featured several times here. I asked Tori a few questions and I thought I would share her answers with you:

How do you see yourself reflected in these words of St JP2?

JP2: “None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.”

TH: I remember watching a youtube video of different artists speaking this exact quote. I was so moved by the video, that I watched it a second and third time – and with each viewing, the words sank deeper into my heart. As a songwriter, I’m acutely aware that, although I am the “author” of songs, I am not the author of creativity. Though I may decide to set aside time to write a song, the resulting work – the melody, the lyrics, the emotion- all of this creativity pours out from something greater than myself. I deeply believe that this source, the origin of creativity, is God the Father. Thus, my career as a musician, is less an independent, personal endeavor and more a participation in the creative movements of the Father.

What unique “word” do you believe your work speaks to your Millennial generation?

TH: There was a time in my life when I thought, “if I could just say the RIGHT thing, or phrase the Gospel in the right way, than surely the world would be converted” – it took a lot of failure before I realized that I had the wrong perspective. By thinking, “if I could say the right thing”, I had assumed that I had some kind of power over another person’s conversion – and this isn’t true. Certainly, we can influence a person, but at the end of the day, it is the Holy Spirit who moves and changes hearts.

I wouldn’t say I had a “word” for my generation, as much as a desire to use music to usher in the real heart-changer, the Holy Spirit. I strive to use music in a way that creates environments of receptivity to the Holy Spirit. I desire for the music to speak to a place in a person’s heart which invites them into a posture of openness, of safety, of gentleness – and in that place, encounter the Holy Spirit.

What inspires your lyrics and melodies?

TH: I have found that my inspiration always begins in a place of brokenness. I lean into songwriting as a way to encounter healing in some area of my life. The lyrics find their way into a song from many different places (scripture, poetry, conversation, personal revelation) but each word or line is recognized because of its role in the process of my healing. I cry out in confusion, or in question, and the lyrics & melodies are the response, the consolation.

Here’s one of her music video, a prayer to the Holy Spirit:

3. When it all falls apart. I came across a small bit of wisdom that a retreat director gave to me not long after my conversion. I kept notes in pithy fragments. It’s so to the point! I’d evidently complained about how hard life had become since I began to have a spiritual life, which seemed to me counter-intuitive and to argue against my life’s turn as “progress.” Wasn’t I supposed to be feeling great, high on God?

The best sign that you are making progress is when everything comes apart as you’re being put together in a new way. All your false props, false securities are being removed. God is giving you some new tools. Stretching you. Giving you a new mind. God teaches the soul by pains and obstacles, not by ideas. The Devil can’t ignore you now. You’re walking from false peace to true peace, from absence of conflict to the presence of truth. Every time you pray, “Help me trust! Give me peace!” God gives you reasons to exercise trust, and removes all of the obstacles to His peace. More tears are shed over answered prayers than over unanswered, so be ready when you pray and trust the Surgeon. We want free and infused graces, but God wants our participation in their acquisition. Pray for perseverance, which is supremely important if you’re going to become what God is making you. Faithful to the very end. The flighty, fair weather friends of God always stay shallow, flit about, never go deep, run when it gets hard. God wants you to go deep. That’s where the gold is. Saints are far sighted and say things like, “Well, after 20 years I think I am beginning to understand.” Canonized saints are defined as those who practiced Christian virtue to a heroic degree. Long-suffering, sticking with it, is the stuff heroes and heroines are made of.

This reminds me of marriage. As my wife and I draw nearer to our 20th wedding anniversary, I honestly feel I can just now begin to say I understand what “the two become one” means. Marital unity is a pearl of great price, purchased at the cost of giving up everything for the sake of my bride. True unity is love refined in the furnace of the “for worse, or poorer, in sickness” part of “for better or…, for richer…, …and in health.” It’s a unity that makes life’s bitterness sweeter than I could ever have imagined,

How good and how pleasant it is,
when [spouses] live in unity!
Like precious oil upon the head
running down upon the beard,
running down upon Aaron’s beard,
upon the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon which falls
on the heights of Zion.
For there the Lord gives his blessing,
life for ever – Psalm 133:1-3

The married couples I most admire have demonstrated unity in “worse” that can get really bad, in “poverty” that can get really poor, in “sickness” that can get really heavy. Yet there they remain, together clinging to God in the night like Jacob in Genesis 32:22-32. In our fickle, feckless and fluid culture, of which I am very much a part, such persevering love has become the new form of heroic sanctity; the new white martyrdom. In fact, those who can persevere to the end in any worthy commitment set themselves apart. My grandfather used to quote to me from somebody, I think Vince Lombardi, who said: “Greatness is found in the last five minutes of anything.” St. John of the Cross loved to say that the night always got darkest just before dawn. Faithfulness, not success. A religious order priest from Sudan I met once said to me with disarming, alarming and unaffected sincerity, “You Americans always think of personal happiness up top. That makes discernment of God’s will very complicated. What will make me happy? I became a priest because my people needed a priest. Discernment was simple: there was a need, I saw it, knew I could respond to it, so I did and will till I die. God is pleased with such simplicity. It’s simple. We’re complicated.”

Humorous aside: I remembered just now an elderly woman I met in an assisted care facility in Iowa saying to me, after I marveled at her and her husband’s 60+ year wedding anniversary, “The secret to a lifelong marriage is love, and the secret to love is knowing when to shut your mouth.” Her husband silently nodded. True love. :-)

4. Stop and Let Go(d). A friend wrote me and shared a beautiful grace she received in prayer and I thought, in the wake of my Sunday post on the Holy Spirit, it would be (with her permission) good to share here:

This morning, as I prayed before Mass, I asked the Holy Spirit to empty my heart so that I might better open myself to His will. I could feel the hard-hearted stubbornness and chaos leaving, only to be replaced a few seconds later by the most awesome calm and peace. If there was ever any doubt that God is good, that took care of it, in spades.

5. Abba! Father! This Sunday is Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday. A felicitous overlap, as the dogma of the Trinity is at heart a mystery of paternity. Being a father is among God’s most extraordinary, ecstatically joyful, really hard graces. Fatherhood awakens you to the fact that your children have become the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, lonely, imprisoned Christ of Matthew 25, who incessantly pleads for your attention and care. My children daily evoke, call, pull and yank fatherhood out of me. If I had to define my own experience of fatherhood, I would say at heart it’s about making my whole self for-them that they might become everything God created them to be.

But my fatherhood is empty and meaningless without its necessary complement in my wife’s motherhood. She challenges and encourages me to be a better dad and I (hopefully) do the same for her. Our marital covenant is the foundation and axis of our family, and our unity as husband and wife is brought to a whole new depth in our unity as father and mother. Neither comes easy. I can see now how bringing those two unities into harmony is not only challenging, but not to do it threatens both the marriage and the children. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby…” Marital unity, nuptial love, must always come first, must rank ahead of and ground parental love. The children must always see and know — though they will occasionally rail against it — that your love for one another is first and founding and unbreakable. Love for them, thought not “lesser,” must come second. When my children ask, “Do you love Mom more than us,” I answer, “No, but I loved her first and always will.” My children must also see that I defend my wife’s honor and demand their respect for her. Respect is a fundamental, bedrock form of love. Right after my first son was born, I went to a parenting conference by John Rosemond and I remember well when he said,

The most troubling things I see developing in the U.S. as I travel is the increase in children hitting their mothers. Hitting their mothers! I hope that does not describe anyone here today. When women tell me this, and say, “What do I do?” I have two responses: (1) They must know they can never ever do it again and if they do there will be dire consequences; and (2) where is your husband? The second question is usually the hardest to hear…

I’ve mentioned here before that my daughter once said to me years ago, “I feel safe when I see you and mommy kiss.” That lovely affirmation of the gift our sacramental love offers to our children is just as lovely as the day that same daughter (years later) said to me, “Dad, it’s not fair that Mom won’t let me…would you let me…” and I replied, “No, I agree with your Mom and, yes, life’s not always fair.” Even if I don’t agree with my wife’s decision, as far as my daughter’s concerned I do, and I will work out my differences with Patti later when we’re alone. I consider some of my greatest failings as a father those moments when I failed to uphold that unity.

My wife calls me to — better, kicks my butt into — holiness through fatherhood. That’s the way it is for so many men I know. That’s certainly the way St. Gianna Molla’s husband saw it. I think here of the words in a letter he wrote (standing before her relics) to his deceased-canonized wife shortly before his own death:

Now, while you are still present to me, I kneel before you, my holy wife, and I entrust to your intercession with Jesus and our Heavenly Mother, our children, myself and all of our dear ones, for all who knew you, loved you and still carry you in their hearts, for all who turn to you each day, and you know that they are so many, always growing in number: mothers, young people, couples, doctors, religious, in Italy and throughout the world. My beloved Gianna, help me to be as much as possible worthy of you. Please remain always close to us and pray for us.

Your beloved Pietro

Thank you, O Holy Trinity, for lending your paternity to me long enough to reveal it to your children whom you have entrusted to me for this brief time! Make me worthy of this high calling.

Daddyhood thus conceived, if you’re honest, gives you both a shot at unsung greatness and a whole new set of sins to confess that grant you unequaled access to humility.

Oh, and here’s a funny video my kids love to play for me on Dad’s Day:

6. Sacerdotal Songs. “I see music as a priesthood” — Sinéad O’Connor.

I watched a recent interview with this eclectic Irish singer and she made this comment after being asked about her thoughts on Pope Francis. Though it’s no doubt freighted with the anti-clerical sentiments she’s made no secret of, it contains a powerful truth that is, of course, my personal passion.

 …like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. — 1 Peter 2:5

The holy and royal priesthood that the Risen Christ shares out with all the baptized is the power to consecrate the temporal order, to daily transact sacrificial oblations between time and eternity. I was at a priestly ordination last Saturday and was struck by a phrase I had never attended to before. When the bishop handed the host and chalice to the newly ordained priest, he said these words:

Receive the oblation of the holy people to be offered to God.

The oblation of the holy people? The chalice and host are neutron stars, highly compressed, visible symbols that bear within them an invisible oblation, i.e. sacrificial offering. That oblation is the material gathered by Christ’s lay faithful through their daily lives of bearing the crosses of their vocations to be salt, leaven and light in the little corner of the world that God has entrusted to them. To tend and feed God’s holy people with the Shepherd’s love, and then to gather up the bounteous “material” of their lives in order to lay it before God for consecration into Christ’s immortal sacrifice — such is the great work of the ministerial priest! As I heard these words, I was deeply moved to think of the vast amount of “material” brought to the Cathedral that day by those hundreds of faithful who came to share in the joy of the Mass of Ordination. Being flanked by a family with five children and a severely disabled elderly woman in a wheelchair was enough to make me cry! What treasures! What a dignity the priest has to be entrusted by each of the faithful with all of their life’s true riches, that he might, through the Eucharistic sacrifice, store their riches safely in heaven. Through your hands, O priest, nothing good in life is lost. Deo gratias!

Back to music. Musicians have a special role in this priestly work of consecrating the world to God. They get to be stewards of unrivaled beauty. St. Paulinus of Nola once said, At nobis ars una fides et musica Christus, “Our only art is faith and our music Christ.” I read an article (here) recently about musicians who are Catholic, like Danylo Fedoryka and Mike Mangione, and whose mission is to make non-religious music that resonates with Christ. Their comments were perfect expressions of the priestly vocation of the laity:

From the beginning, our desire has been to bring a lightness into the darkly charged environment you find in most clubs and bars. Our goal is to change that feeling of darkness into a feeling of joy. What we bring to the table as musicians is that we love everybody because they’re God’s children. Recognizing the dignity of the people in our audiences requires us to give them the best show we can give no matter what. There’s been a lot of bad music for a long time, and they’re tired of the overproduced offerings from the music industry. Then, along comes the Avetts and Marcus Mumford, and they’re writing songs with substance, songs that are about more than the latest hookup or partying. They’re talking about things that are real, and people respond to that. Our culture is filled with incredible people with incredible potential. But they’re constantly bombarded by so many negative messages. That’s why we’re called to go out into the streets and present a different message. That’s our job. Not to be on the outskirts shouting, but to be on the inside showing.

7. “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation,” — Genesis 2:2-3:

“The Trinity with the Dead Christ,” Lodovico Carracci c. 1615. Taken from wikimedia.org

Art, 4 Art’s Sake

Yesterday I came across what is considered to be among the oldest icons of Christ, probably a 6th century painting that has been housed in St. Catherine’s monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai for over a thousand years, and was overwhelmed by its beauty:

Taken from bp.blogspot.com

Icons, called “windows to heaven,” are at the heart of the Christian Gospel as they proclaim with vivid power the truth of the Incarnation of God, that God has bound Himself to the material world and rendered it capax Dei, “capable of God.” I shared this before, but several years ago I had an experience praying before a replica of this icon at the Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska. Prior to that experience, I had always understood the “window” theology to mean the icon opened for me a portal to gaze into the Next World. But that experience, in which I was ambushed by Christ’s eyes, His gaze, whirled my understanding and allowed me to see that icons were windows by which Christ and His saints gazed on — or better, into — me.

This is a theology of grace, really. Every impulse to pray, to remember God, to repent for a sin or to do some good is always first and foremost a response, a coming to awareness of God’s penetrating gaze of infinite mercy that is always cast upon our inmost being. After I had that encounter with the Christ of the Icon, I found this (youtube) woman’s portrayal of the Woman at the Well to be a perfect summation of that brief glimpse I caught of His eternally knowing gaze:

Borrowed light, again

I must again allow some Greats to sing the praises of artists!

To all of you artists of the world, the Church of the Council declares through our lips: if you are friends of true art, you are our friends! This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart, and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration. And all this through the work of your hands . . . Remember that you are the custodians of beauty in the world. — Pope Paul VI at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on 8 December 1965

Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Saint Augustine, who fell in love with beauty and sang its praises, wrote these words: “Therefore we are to see a certain vision, my brethren, that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived: a vision surpassing all earthly beauty, whether it be that of gold and silver, woods and fields, sea and sky, sun and moon, or stars and angels. The reason is this: it is the source of all other beauty” (In 1 Ioannis, 4:5). My wish for all of you, dear artists, is that you may carry this vision in your eyes, in your hands, and in your heart, that it may bring you joy and continue to inspire your fine works. — Pope Benedict XVI

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up. ― Pablo Picasso

Oh, and here’s a sketch my oldest daughter is working on, i.e. almost complete.

photo (3)





D-Day claimed over 4,400 killed in action and 8,000 more wounded. Taken from http://www.crossfitjamesisland.com

…a tribute to your many friends who have paid with their lives for fidelity to their mission. Forgetting themselves and despising danger, they rendered the community a priceless service. Today, during the Eucharistic celebration, we entrust them to the Lord with gratitude and admiration. But where did they find the strength necessary to do their duty to the full, other than in total adherence to the professed ideals? Many of them believed in Christ, and his words illumined their existence and gave an exemplary value to their sacrifice. — St. John Paul II

Last Friday, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, our family watched HBO’s “Band of Brothers” which, starting with their rigorous training in Georgia in 1942, recounts the achievements of the elite rifle company — Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army — which parachuted into France early on D-Day morning, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and captured Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden. It was very powerful and, as one of my sons said, “it makes you realize these were real people.” Something that can be lost when you study wars in history books. Afterward, I re-read Pope St. John Paul II’s remarkable reflection on 50th anniversary of the end of World War II (see whole text here), and would like to share my favorite excerpt here.

O God, grant eternal rest to the souls of all those who died in that war and in all wars.

Many are the voices raised on this 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in an effort to overcome the divisions between victors and the vanquished. There are commemorations of the courage and sacrifice of millions of men and women. For her part, the Church wishes to listen in particular to the plea of all the victims. It is a plea which helps us understand better the scandal of those six years of conflict. It is a plea which asks us to reflect on what the War meant for all humanity. It is a plea which serves as a denunciation of the ideologies which led to that immense catastrophe. In the face of every war, we are all called to ponder our responsibilities, to forgive and to ask forgiveness. We feel bitter regret, as Christians, when we consider that “the horrors of that war took place on a continent which could claim a remarkable flowering of culture and civilization – the continent which had remained so long in the light of the Gospel and of the Church”. For this the Christians of Europe need to ask forgiveness, even while recognizing that there were varying degrees of responsibility in the events which led to the war.

War never again! Yes to peace! These were the sentiments commonly expressed after the historic date of 8 May 1945. The six horrible years of conflict provided everyone with an opportunity to grow in the school of suffering. Christians too were able to draw closer together and question their own responsibilities for their disunity. They also discovered anew the solidarity of a destiny which they share in common and with all men and women of whatever nation. An event which marked the depths of strife and division between peoples and individuals thus proved for Christians a providential opportunity to become aware of their profound communion in suffering and in bearing witness. Beneath the Cross of Christ, members of all the Churches and Christian communities were able to resist even unto the supreme sacrifice. Many of them, with the peaceful weapons of witness in suffering and of love, stood up in an exemplary way to their torturers and oppressors. Together with others — believers and non-believers, men and women of every race, religion and nation — they held aloft very clearly, above the mounting wave of violence, a message of brotherhood and forgiveness.

On this anniversary, how can we fail to remember those Christians who, bearing witness in the face of evil, prayed for their oppressors and bent down to bind the wounds of all? By sharing in suffering, they saw one another as brothers and sisters, and fully experienced the unreasonableness of their divisions. Shared suffering made them feel ever more deeply both the weight of the divisions still existing among Christ’s followers and the negative consequences which these divisions entail for the building of Europe’s spiritual, cultural and political identity. Their experience serves as a warning for us: we need to continue along this path, praying and working with fervent confidence and generosity, in expectation of the fast-approaching Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. May Christians set out towards that goal on a pilgrimage of penance and reconciliation,  in the hope of being able at last to restore full communion between all believers in Christ, a step which will assuredly benefit the cause of peace.

Pouring Coffee Beneath the Ascending Christ

“Ite, Missa Est: The Lay Vocation.” Taken from sportishness.com

As was the case yesterday, today I get to reflect a borrowed light and share with you a homily that is too big to remain parochial. This is an Ascension homily preached by a priest whom I have known for years, and from whose witness I have benefited intellectually and spiritually. He wrote me a few weeks ago after he read my “Cultural Mystics” post and said something like, “This is my Ascension homily! I will be preaching on the lay vocation soon.” I think maybe I wept, or at least fell backwards from my office chair onto the floor. I asked him for a copy of it and he graciously gave me permission to post it here. It gives me more joy than I can express to see this theological flame flaring up in the pulpit, and with a homiletic flair and eloquence that would put a smile on the face of old “golden mouth” St. John Chrysostom.

Enjoy and heed his words!

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Check the Hallmark store and you’ll notice that there are a couple of greeting cards for key moments in Christ’s life. There are cards commemorating Jesus’s birth (Christmas) and there are cards commemorating his resurrection (Easter). But the cards stop there in terms of key events in the life of Christ. Few of us in the United States give out Ascension greeting cards or Pentecost greeting cards. They simply aren’t on the shelves. I looked on the web site of the Printery House, the Christian greeting card and gift ministry run by the monks of Conception Abbey where I used to be a monk for many years. I did find holy cards and icons for the Ascension and Pentecost, although there are no greeting cards for Ascension and Pentecost. These two feasts would seem to be of little importance to many of us.

So beyond being a bit of biblical trivia that we might affirm as true, what does Christ’s ascension have to do with my waking up, pouring my morning coffee, checking email, and heading out to work for the day? How does Christ’s ascension matter to my life and my vocational commitments?

In the first place, the Ascension is critically important to how we understand the relationship of heaven and earth, and the reality of Christ’s sovereignty over all of creation. The problem comes from a very prevalent, but wrong, conception of heaven. Once you start to think of heaven, not as a place miles up in the sky, but as the intersection of the reality of God with us – an intersection that is to us unpredictable and uncontrollable – then you realize that for Jesus to “go into heaven” is not for him to go up as a spaceman miles into space somewhere, and not for him to be distant or absent now. It is for him to be present to us as our Lord and God “in whom we live and move and have our being,” as St. Paul said to the Greeks in the Aeropagus.

Because we haven’t taken seriously what Jesus said in the gospel today, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” we haven’t thought of heaven as the reality of God “in whom we live and move and have our being.” We’ve thought of it like, He’s gone away, leaving us to run things. No. He ascended not in the sense of being beamed up into the sky, but of ascending his throne as Lord of heaven and earth. The Ascension is Christ’s “enthronement.” What began as the cruel mockery, Christ’s crucifixion as King of the Jews, ends with the most surprising vindication. He was indeed King and did receive a throne. Failing to remember and celebrate the Ascension means our Easter season is incomplete.

As our resurrected and ascended king, Jesus gives us a command today. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Very quickly, the last sentence, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Jesus is with us always because no matter how sinful or saintly we may be, no matter how much we may realize and understand this or have no concept of it. First, last and always it is in Jesus that “we live and move and have our being.” Living and moving and having our being in Jesus is not something dependent on us. It is God’s gift, so there is nothing we can do; there is no place we can go to get away from him. As the psalmist says, “O where can I go from your spirit, or where can I flee from your face? If I climb the heavens, you are there. If I lie in the grave, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell at the sea’s furthest end, even there your hand would lead me, your right hand would hold me fast. If I say: “Let the darkness hide me and the light around me be night,” even darkness is not dark for you and the night is as clear as the day.”

And the command he give us is “Go, therefore”, in other words, because all power in heaven and earth has been given to me, I command you to “Go…and make disciples of all nations.” So how do we do that? Of course through Baptism, but there is something much more that needs to accompany that and I want to speak about that in terms of how you live that out in your life.

The Second Vatican Council repeatedly outlined and clarified the role of the laity. But we don’t talk about it much or understand it anywhere near what we should. I suspect that the average lay person vaguely perceives Vatican II as a Council which opened the doors of the Church to the spirit of modern world, especially in the areas of liturgy and ecumenism. While there is some truth to this, the Council did much more. But first it is eye-opening to read the warnings of the Council Fathers and St. John Paul II regarding an essential element at stake in this matter of the role of the laity; namely, your salvation.

Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, makes a clear and serious connection between the laity’s life as Catholics in the world and your eternal destination, the fate of your soul:

This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation. Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age. . . . The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation (GS 43).

Two common problems are pointed out in this quote from the Council: the shirking of responsibilities by those who would focus on their heavenly home at the expense of earthly duties, and, that which is much more prevalent, those who, due to a legalistic compartmentalizing understanding of their faith, divorce the practice of the faith from their everyday life. That tends to be prominent in our culture – faith is something you do on Sundays and something you keep out of the marketplace. This is directly in contradiction to the teaching of the Church.

St. John Paul II alluded to this same message in his Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, written immediately after the 1987 Synod of Bishops. He said:

At the same time, the Synod has pointed out that the post-conciliar path of the lay faithful has not been without its difficulties and dangers. In particular, two temptations can be cited which they have not always known how to avoid: the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel’s acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world. (CL 2)

In talking about the temptation of being strongly interested in Church services and tasks, St. John Paul II was speaking about the narrowing of vision in considering ministries as those things that are connected immediately to the Church rather than understanding that the essential ministry of the laity is to become “actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world…”

Jesus told us that we are in the world but not of it; that we are citizens of two cities – that of earth, but our true homeland is heaven. Because we are members of both cities we cannot withdraw from the earthly one to focus only on the heavenly one, nor can we withdraw from the heavenly one to focus only on the earthly one. We must be connected to both worlds; in the world but not of it, as Jesus says.

We hear often about a vocation crisis and although there is a real crisis in regard to the number of priests, there is an equally real crisis in the area of lay vocations. A teaching and emphasis of Vatican II is the call – the vocation – to holiness as the essential basis for the Christian life.

This vocation to holiness points the laity towards their proper role: working in the temporal order for the kingdom of God. In other words, your daily life in the world is the particular environment and means for the fulfillment of the lay vocation.

It is your duty to engage in a sort of sacred subversion by which, grounded in holiness and filled with the Holy Spirit, you change the world from the inside, permeating it with truth and light. That is where you find your salvation – the fulfillment of your role in the world to be yeast in the dough, to be sacred guerillas changing the world by filling it with the word of God just as yeast fills dough with the spirit of carbon dioxide. Listen again to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

But by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, constitute their very existence. There they are called by God that, being led by the spirit to the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially by the witness of their life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they must manifest Christ to others. It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are so closely associated that these may be affected and grow according to Christ and may be to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer. (LG 31)

That’s what Jesus means by being yeast in the dough of the world. Again, this involvement of the laity in the world is not an option, but a command given by God, who desires all people to come to salvation. It is also the way in which the laity fully realize their true place and role in the Church. By bringing the Church to the world, the laity brings the world into contact with the Church, the Body of Christ, as the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church says:

The apostolate of the laity is a sharing in the salvific mission of the Church. Through Baptism and Confirmation all are appointed to this apostolate by the Lord himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, and especially by the Eucharist, that love of God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. The laity, however, are given this special vocation: to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth. Thus, every lay person, through those gifts given to him or her, is at once the witness and the living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal.” (LG 33)

Each of the baptized has this as a primary vocation, a primary calling by Jesus. By a full response to the call of your primary vocation that you work out your eternal salvation through God’s grace. It is at Christ’s ascension that you received that call and it was handed on to you at your baptism.

So, waking up, pouring your morning coffee, checking email, and heading out to work for the day, make sure you prepare yourself for the work you are to accomplish each day by remembering this simple truth: Christ ascended into heaven and is enthroned as Lord of all creation. He is sovereign over your home and your workplace, over the order forms and the shopping lists, the vacation schedules and the work schedules, even the cranky co-worker. His presence through the intimacy of the Holy Spirit is yours, always and abundantly – in board meetings, in difficult or mundane conversations, in dark dungeons, and in tension filled court rooms. Christ ascended into heaven, and it matters for your life and your work today, because the manner in which you live out the mandate he gives you today will determine your eternal salvation.


When We Close Our Wombs

“The Visitation,” 15th century, Heimsuchung von Maria und Elisabeth. Taken from unbornwordoftheday.files.wordpress.com

The biological nature of each person is untouchable in the sense that it is constitutive of the personal identity of the individual throughout the whole course of his history. Each human person, in his absolutely unique singularity, is constituted not only by his spirit, but by his body as well. Thus, in the body and through the body, one touches the person himself in his concrete reality. To respect the dignity of man, consequently, amounts to safeguarding this identity of the man as “one in body and soul,” as Vatican Council II says. — St. John Paul II

I have a dear friend in Lafayette, Louisiana, Dr. Damon Cudihy, who is a radical witness of the lay vocation lived out under the form of husband, father and Ob/Gyn. He demonstrates daily how the synthesis of faith and life is not only possible but beautiful to behold, though its beauty has, for him, only been wrought by a steady dose of costly grace. I admire his kindness, his work ethic, his brilliant mind, his even-handedness and his joyful love of Christ, the Church and the people who cross his path every day. You can see more about his work here.

My main reason for referring to Dr. Cudihy today is to bring to your attention his recent response to an article by a theologically degreed Protestant Christian, Suzanne Burden, called, When We Close Our Wombs (see here). Her main point is summed up in the article’s final paragraph:

…most women will face many choices regarding their reproductive system in their lifetime, and many will face a decision about whether to end their fertility for health or personal reasons. Whatever choices we make, we should do so with reverence, care and the support of spiritual companions. As we do, we agree that our reproductive systems are a good gift from God. And we affirm that decisions about them should be filled with intention, care and the Christian hope that God will continue to bear his good fruit in us whether our wombs are open or closed.

When I read it, I wrote Damon and said, “Would you comment on this?” He graciously did and, though his comment has not yet (as I write this post) been approved for viewing on the “her-meneutics” website where the article first appeared, I thought I would post it here for your edification.

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Dear Suzanne,

My heart goes out to you as it does to all my patients who suffer with infertility and the heart wrenching decisions to undergo procedures which result in their permanent sterility.  As a gynecologist who has dedicated his professional life to addressing the problems of female infertility, painful periods, and heavy menstrual bleeding, and as a fellow Christian, I’d like to offer a unique perspective for both you and your readers.

The symptoms of infertility and pelvic pain (menstrual-associated or otherwise) are the most common symptoms of endometriosis.  Despite the fact that this condition is typically treated with birth control pills, the best treatment for the pain and the only treatment that restores (or preserves) fertility is surgical removal of the endometriosis.  Unfortunately, however, in the age of using birth control pills as a cure all and of IVF as the answer to infertility, fewer and fewer physicians are able to provide a more specific diagnosis and treatment plan that actually corrects the abnormality.

Your situation sounds very similar to many patients I’ve treated over the years.  More specifically, the combination of tubal sterilization and endometrial ablation.  Since I don’t perform either of these procedures, they became my patients when they experienced a fairly common condition resulting from this combination known as “Post-ablation tubal sterilization syndrome (PATSS).”  This condition of intense menstrual pain results of blood becoming trapped in the tubes because of the sterilization occlusion on one end and the scarring of the uterus (caused by the ablation) on the other.  The best treatment for these situations is usually a hysterectomy (often, in retrospect, would have been the best treatment to begin with).

One of the medical principles I strive to follow is that of “first, do no harm.” Accordingly, when surgery is necessary, I do everything possible to do so in as minimally invasive a manner as possible. (Fortunately, modern surgical technology has allowed the once morbid hysterectomy to become one where the recovery period is much quicker and less painful.)  Because fertility is a healthy condition, I would be causing unnecessary harm to a woman’s body if I were to perform a direct sterilization.  By direct, I mean a procedure where the sole purpose is destroy her capacity to conceive children.  When I perform a hysterectomy for a genuine problem (i.e. intense pain, excessive bleeding, etc), the sterility that results is indirect—one that we accept as an unavoidable (yet accepted) consequence to the best treatment for her medical problem (diseased uterus, etc).  If a woman is in a situation where a future pregnancy in unadvisable for whatever reason, there are much better ways to avoid pregnancy that maintain a more complete respect for the woman’s body as created in the image of God.  For married women, this simply entails learning one of the various methods of Fertility Awareness (often derisively called the “rhythm method” by those unfamiliar with its actual effectiveness).  Among all creation, only humans have been granted free will.  Regarding sexual intimacy, this is why mutual consent is universally recognized as absolutely essential–even among atheists.  Using a Fertility Awareness Method to avoid pregnancy is as simple as learning to identify the fertile days in a woman’s cycle and avoiding marital intercourse on those days.  While at first this may sound like an excessively scrupulous method to obtain the same end, if we thoughtfully and prayerfully reflect on it further we can see why this is the best way.

Sadly, a contraceptive mentality as contributed to our increasingly hedonistic society.  When we fail to recognize children as the supreme gift of marriage, we see them instead as inconveniences, burdens, health hazards, or even enemies to be avoided at all costs.  No wonder then that our federal government has now codified law that literally regards fertility as a disease—one that all insurances must pay to cure. (On the contrary, the legitimate problem of infertility is never covered by insurance.)  Since we are a people following the one who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6), we must be careful that our actions always reflect a reverence for our “bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1Cor 6:19).  In doing so we give witness to God’s plan for marriage and the essential good of children—even when, paradoxically, we suffer the cross of infertility.  Since we believe that God designed our bodies and commands us to “be fertile and multiply,” we should joyfully accept children as a gift from the Most High and should be careful that any means used to avoid or postpone new life is completely respectful of our bodily integrity and the truth that openness to children is an essential purpose of marriage.

In Christ,

Damon Cudihy, MD


Come, O Harmonious One!

Pope Francis, Taken from wdtprs.com

The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself. As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit shines become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others. From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations. – St. Basil the Great

Getting Spirit-reliant

When I was on my 8-day Ignatian retreat two years ago, my retreat spiritual director — who was in his 80’s, very experienced as a director and brutally insightful — was confronting me on my fear of new situations that challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone. As I presented to him my standard approach to such challenges, he said,

You see, that’s your problem. You try to white-knuckle everything, a typical American middle-aged white male who thinks sheer will-power, stoic indifference and an ethic of self-reliance will get him through everything. But you see, that’s got nothing to do with holiness if God is not invited into your fears and weaknesses, if God is not sought before every decision but only asked to bless you after you’ve made your decision or only after you’ve gotten through the pain. A God who is only asked to bless what your self-reliant self decides to do is not the God of the Cross, but the god of your ego. Next time you walk into a new situation, a new place, a new office space, a new home, I want you to stop and remember that the Holy Spirit is already there; that He already has a plan for you to navigate the fears, the unknown, the chaos; and He’s overloaded with graces to dispense if you ask Him for them at the beginning, middle and end.  Every morning when you wake up I want you to say, right away, “Holy Spirit, before I begin my day I want to ask what you want from me.” Just sit and listen long enough to receive His grace. He’s in no rush, and when we show Him we aren’t in a rush to receive from Him, He’s generous. If He sees we are impatient and restless, ready to move on to other things and we quit after a few moments, He will withhold His richer graces and wait. Wait until the pain and exhaustion pulls you to your knees, and then you are ready to wait and receive because you know you have nothing. But really, you always have nothing, always depend on Him for everything. Wait every morning in silence to receive from Him, to hear; maybe for 15 minutes. You won’t hear a voice — usually — but He always and infallibly communicates to every trusting, waiting soul. When you stop and listen to Him, dispose yourself to His action by sitting in a silent fiat, a “let it be,” and He will secretly communicate to your soul all that He wishes. Its effects will spill out during the day even when, and especially when, you’re not aware.

St. Paul says the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of harmony, of peace, of order, so when your life feels out of those things He awaits your aching cry to Him: Come! In fact, let me encourage you to pray Cardinal Mercier’s prayer every morning to help you open yourself and, at least when you are in God’s presence, forget your white-knuckled machismo: “O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your will.” Do this faithfully every day, and tell me in three months about the changes you’ll see. Remember, the Evil One will do everything he can to distract you and discourage you and dissuade you from the practice, because he’s threatened by it. Terrified. But stand your ground and you will not be disappointed…

I can’t quote that Mercier prayer without offering you Colleen Nixon’s exquisitely beautiful musical rendition that makes you want to pray it 24/7:

Papa Franceso

Finally, let me share today a portion of the brilliant Pentecost homily of Pope Francis from 2013:

In the light of this passage from Acts, I would like to reflect on three words linked to the working of the Holy Spirit: newness, harmony and mission.

1. Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, programme and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences. This is also the case when it comes to God. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own. Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness and change, and demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand; Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim the Gospel. This is not a question of novelty for novelty’s sake, the search for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own day. The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually brings fulfillment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good. Let us ask ourselves: Are we open to Gods surprises? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which Gods newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?

2. A second thought: the Holy Spirit would appear to create disorder in the Church, since he brings the diversity of charisms and gifts; yet all this, by his working, is a great source of wealth, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, which does not mean uniformity, but which leads everything back to harmony. In the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who creates harmony. One of Fathers of the Church has an expression which I love: the Holy Spirit himself is harmony, “Ipse harmonia est.” Only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while at the same time building unity. Here too, when we are the ones who try to create diversity and close ourselves up in what makes us different and other, we bring division. When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, we end up creating uniformity, standardization. But if instead we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict, because he impels us to experience variety within the communion of the Church. Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit. Having a sense of the Church is something fundamental for every Christian, every community and every movement. It is the Church which brings Christ to me, and me to Christ; parallel journeys are dangerous! When we venture beyond (proagon) the Church’s teaching and community, and do not remain in them, we are not one with the God of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Jn 9). So let us ask ourselves: Am I open to the harmony of the Holy Spirit, overcoming every form of exclusivity? Do I let myself be guided by him, living in the Church and with the Church?

3. A final point. The older theologians used to say that the soul is a kind of sailboat, the Holy Spirit is the wind which fills its sails and drives it forward, and the gusts of wind are the gifts of the Spirit. Lacking his impulse and his grace, we do not go forward. The Holy Spirit draws us into the mystery of the living God and saves us from the threat of a Church which is gnostic and self-referential, closed in on herself; he impels us to open the doors and go forth to proclaim and bear witness to the good news of the Gospel, to communicate the joy of faith, the encounter with Christ. The Holy Spirit is the soul of mission. The events that took place in Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago are not something far removed from us; they are events which affect us and become a lived experience in each of us. The Pentecost of the Upper Room in Jerusalem is the beginning, a beginning which endures. The Holy Spirit is the supreme gift of the risen Christ to his apostles, yet he wants that gift to reach everyone. As we heard in the Gospel, Jesus says: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to remain with you forever (Jn 14:16). It is the Paraclete Spirit, the Comforter, who grants us the courage to take to the streets of the world, bringing the Gospel! The Holy Spirit makes us look to the horizon and drive us to the very outskirts of existence in order to proclaim life in Jesus Christ. Let us ask ourselves: do we tend to stay closed in on ourselves, on our group, or do we let the Holy Spirit open us to mission?

Today’s liturgy is a great prayer which the Church, in union with Jesus, raises up to the Father, asking him to renew the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May each of us, and every group and movement, in the harmony of the Church, cry out to the Father and implore this gift. Today too, as at her origins, the Church, in union with Mary, cries out: Veni, Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love! Amen.

Okay, I know this is a lot, but you have to listen to this magnificent Byzantine hymn to the Holy Spirit called, O Heavenly King:


“Pentecost,”by Jean II Restout, 1732. Taken from wikimedia.org

On the eve of Pentecost, I thought I would offer a simple hommage to a Sacrament I assume most of the readers of this Blog have received: Confirmation.  I will use the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect on some of its riches.

First, do you know when you were Confirmed? As with the dates of Baptism, Holy Orders and Marriage, it’s a salutary practice to annually honor the anniversary of this day of grace. You can find out from the parish in which you were Confirmed. That said, tomorrow’s Feast, in real sense, is the anniversary of your Confirmation, as the Catechism reminds us (#1302). Confirmation, the Catechism says, is the sacrament of Pentecost, i.e. the whole mystery that took place that morning in Jerusalem is planted in us spiritually, mystically, invisibly through the visible signs of the laying on of hands and Sacred Chrism. In other words, Confirmation is your personal Pentecost. I attended a Confirmation six or seven years ago, and the a Confirming Archbishop gave a really passionate homily to the teen confirmandi which I later jotted down from memory. Here’s a portion of it:

If God gave to your eyes right now the power to see the spiritual world, you would see this church enveloped in wind and flame. Why? Well, at this very moment the Holy Spirit is eagerly awaiting to ignite the kindling wood of your faith so He can set the world on fire! You all have faith, right? [he walked over to individuals and asked them with mic in hand, much to their chagrin!] If not, tell me now. This isn’t magic. Like all the Sacraments, this is a Sacrament of faith. Faith means you believe what God has revealed to his Catholic Church about who He is and who you are. And faith means we cling to the God we believe in, we trust him absolutely, in the best and the darkest of times. We have to have a fierce faith in this world of doubt! The cowardly disciples came out of that Upper Room after the Spirit came filled with trust, with a fearless joy and enthusiasm that drove them into the streets to greet — like madmen! — the very people who had, only weeks before, shouted to Pilate: Crucify him! Crucify him! Now they were going to tell those same people to their faces: this Jesus you crucified is now exalted as the Lord of all creation. Jesus puts his disciples in places of dissonance and rejection so they can bring the Spirit’s harmony in to replace that division and hate and every other sin. You’re going to get uncomfortable when your Confirmed. You’re squirming now, right?

But you’re not alone, you’re not orphans. Jesus is sending you now His Spirit to fire you up, to enlighten your mind and make you firm in your faith — Con-firm-ation, right? Be ready to break open those church doors when this Mass is over, get ready to rush out into the world to shout, by your words and actions, that one word of the Cross that silences the babel and tell everyone you meet: Christ is the meaning and measure of life! He’s the right Way! Crazy, right? Crazy chaste men and women who refuse to give in to a culture of self-indulgence and addiction to pleasure. Crazy honest men and women of integrity who refuse to succumb to a culture of lies and deception. Crazy sacrificial men and women who refuse to live their lives for themselves first, but who live for Gof and others even and especially when it hurts. We’re crazy people, folks, Jesus freaks. They may accuse you of being drunk, of having lost your mind, but you’ll know that you haven’t lost your mind. No! You’ve gained not a lost mind but a Pentecost mind, the mind of Jesus! He’s the only fully human human-being who ever lived. Vatican II says it like this: “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” You want to know who you are? Look at Him! Jesus is our looking glass: He reflects back to us what we’re supposed to look like, who we’re supposed to be. And when we look like Him those whose mirrors and dark, distorted, shattered think we look crazy. But who’s really the crazy one?

Confirmation is conformation to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, and it’s not just thinking like Jesus but it’s letting Jesus think his thoughts in you. You see, He’s alive! That’s what the Holy Spirit’s whole mission is: to open your mind to Jesus’ mind, to what’s on Jesus mind right now gets into my real life and fills it with real and lasting joy.

So, as Pope John Paul often said to us, do not be afraid to be different, to put out into the deep, to be counter-cultural, to surprise your peers and parents with a new way of thinking. It may cause a stir, an uproar, laughter and snickering; but that’s the stuff saints and martyrs are made of, the stuff your own patron saint was made of; stuff God wants you to be made of. Are you ready for the challenge? I can’t hear you!…

Unpacking the Catechism

The Catechism reminds us that Confirmation is really about diving deeper into the baptismal font, unlocking and searing into our souls more perfectly and permanently some of the most profound gifts that came to us in our Baptism. There are five effects in particular that are highlighted. I will list each in the Catechism’s own words and then offer a brief quote to further illumine it’s meaning.

1. Rooting us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”

And since I in the beginning created man after my own image and likeness, and afterwards imprinted your image on my Son by assuming human nature, it is always my endeavor, in so far as you are fit for it, to intensify that likeness between me and you. — God the Father to St. Catherine of Siena

2. Uniting us more firmly to Christ

The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself. They are consecrated for the royal priesthood and the holy people (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-10) not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world. The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate. — Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity

3. Increasing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us

We turn now to the Seven Gifts of the sanctifying category. They are: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. They each perfect certain basic virtues. Four of them perfect the intellectual virtues. Understanding gives an intuitive penetration into truth. Wisdom perfects charity, in order to judge divine things. Knowledge perfects the virtue of hope. The gift of counsel perfects prudence. The other three gifts perfect virtues of the will and appetites. The gift of piety perfects justice in giving to others that which is their due. This is especially true of giving God what is His due. Fortitude perfects the virtue of fortitude, in facing dangers. Fear of the Lord perfects temperance in controlling disordered appetites. — Fr. William Most

4. Rendering our bond with the Church more perfect

Why do I remain in the Church? Because she is the Church of the saints, both the hidden ones and those others who have been pushed into the limelight. It is they who refute the silly assertion that Christians are so engrossed in receiving their God that they can never forget themselves to engage in feats of courage and imagination.

And the saints are humble, that is to say, the mediocrity of the Church does not deter them from expressing once and for all their solidarity with her, knowing well that without her they could never find their way to God. To bypass Christ’s Church with the idea of making their way to God on their own initiative would never occur to them. They do battle with the mediocrity of Christ’s Church not by protesting but by enkindling and encouraging the better. The Church causes them pain, but they do not become embittered and stand aside to sulk. They form no dissident groups but cast their fire into the midst.

Your genuine saint never points to himself; he is no more than the reflection. It is the Master Flame that counts. This pointing away from self is an exact criterion. “He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light” (Jn.1:7). But of the same saint it is written that he was “to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk. 1:79). When you come to think of it, is not this pointing away from self perfectly and uniquely realized in the Church herself? She is more than community, more than “a sociological phenomenon,” she is “the handmaid of the Lord” (and that includes the humiliated holder of church authority) who points away from herself and is filled with all fullness, not of herself but with “the fullness of Him who is all in all” (Eph. 1:23). — Hans Urs von Balthasar

5. Giving us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross

Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of these are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”. John Paul II asked us to recognize that “there must be no lessening of the impetus to preach the Gospel” to those who are far from Christ, “because this is the first task of the Church”. Indeed, “today missionary activity still represents the greatest challenge for the Church” and “the missionary task must remain foremost”. What would happen if we were to take these words seriously? We would realize that missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity. Along these lines the Latin American bishops stated that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”. This task continues to be a source of immense joy for the Church: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7).

We do well to keep in mind the early Christians and our many brothers and sisters throughout history who were filled with joy, unflagging courage and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel. Some people nowadays console themselves by saying that things are not as easy as they used to be, yet we know that the Roman empire was not conducive to the Gospel message, the struggle for justice, or the defence of human dignity. Every period of history is marked by the presence of human weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness, to say nothing of the concupiscence which preys upon us all. These things are ever present under one guise or another; they are due to our human limits rather than particular situations. Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different. But let us learn also from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day. So I propose that we pause to rediscover some of the reasons which can help us to imitate them today. — Evangelii Gaudium #263

Have a joyous day of preparation for the Feast of Fire!

Taken from msmc.la.edu

Texting your sins

Taken from bryanterrill.com

Recently my wife and I watched a documentary with our children on texting and driving, From One Second To The Next, that told the heart-wrenching stories of victims and victimizers whose lives were turned upside down by one person’s decision to text while driving. It withered any temptation I may have had in me.

It reminded me of a Sunday homily I heard several years ago by a priest who spoke of what he called “the sins I am surprised I never hear confessed.” It was a sobering homily.

First, he mentioned the need to consider more carefully “sins of omission,” meaning sins that emerge from “failing to do what we can or ought” when circumstances call for action. For example, he said, sometimes we are obliged to act or speak out against maligning gossip shared in our presence, but we fail to through cowardice, laziness, desire for others’ approval or some other self-interested rationale. In such circumstances, he argued, “it is Christ whom we deny or fail to shield, as He is present in every person unjustly accused or maligned; and He awaits members of His Body — us! — to come to His defense. He identifies Himself with these ‘least’ and takes very personally what is done, or not done, for those so wronged. That’s if we are to take really seriously the implications of Matthew 25. Those judged unto damnation are judged for sins of omission.”

Then the priest took a surprising direction in his homily, one I have heard preached neither before nor after that day. It stung me. He said,

But one of the most surprising omissions in Confession is the sin of breaking traffic laws, reckless driving. Did you know the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, ” Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air”? Grave guilt! Let me ask you — but don’t raise your hand! — how many of you have sped, had too much alcohol and gotten behind a wheel, texted while you were driving, blown through stop lights or done other irresponsible things while driving? This is, the Church tells us, a grave matter, “graviter” in Catechism’s Latin — which means it’s grave matter, the matter for mortal sin. And the Catechism takes it so seriously that it places this consideration under the 5th commandment, Thou shalt not kill. If Jesus says to grow angry with your brother in your heart is already murder, the Catechism adds that reckless driving, even if you don’t get caught, can be considered already murder.

I beg you as your father in Christ to respect life by driving safely, to be a witness to temperance and justice, and call others to be accountable and responsible. Maybe put a religious bumper sticker or “respect life” sticker on your car so that you make yourself more self-conscious of being a witness to others of the faith, of Christ, of being consistent in your reverence for life.

There’s a bumper sticker I’ve seen — “honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet him” [congregation laughter] — but I would add, on a much more serious note, that I personally would not want my last deed before entering the presence of Christ the Judge to be the violation of the 5th commandment.

Go to Confession if you haven’t and unburden your sins before our merciful Lord, the Lover of life…

I know I sure had to.