Love enwrapped in mystery’s embrace
invading our scattered, listless days
with wondrous wakings to all-as-grace
from God, known as ‘the One who stays.’
Sacred stone, chrism’d face, water and flame of fire,
Word contrite, bold and whispered, healing Ray
of Sunlit joy; ‘thrice-holy’ cry from children’s choir;
slain-Love beckons: before Me your treasures lay:
Wheat crushed-ground, become our daily Bread;
Grape-pressed, bleed of God-life that heals our ills;
Christ-breath broods o’er a family Table, spread
by the Wielder-of-Peace, while fearful water stills.
We eat of God, drink in fear cast out by love;
O Food consuming all, whirling those caught his Gale.
Christ ’round me, within, below and above
shine beauty ‘fore which all other beauties pale!
Thrust me, Lord, into this fractured world to be
your hands, your feet, your voice
that in, with, through I, my fragilest me
you might once-for-all set the captive free.
Ite, Missa est
Lord come now, be our ever-welcomed Guest.

A Time for Catholic Action

Last Thursday in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a remarkable address to a group of visiting American bishops. He praised America’s founders for their commitment to religious liberty and their belief that Judeo-Christian moral teachings are essential to shaping citizens and democratic institutions. The Holy Father warned that our heritage of religious freedom faces “grave threats” from the “radical secularism” of political and cultural opinion leaders who are “increasingly hostile to Christianity.” Read more…

Festa di San Tommaso d’Aquino

“It is said that Luther publicly burned the Summa Theologica and the works of Aquinas; and with the bonfire of such books this book may well come to an end. They say it is very difficult to burn a book; and it must have been exceedingly difficult to burn such a mountain of books as the Dominican had contributed to the controversies of Christendom. Anyhow, there is something lurid and apocalyptic about the idea of such destruction, when we consider the compact complexity of all that encyclopedic survey of social and moral and theoretical things. All the close-packed definitions that excluded so many errors and extremes; all the broad and balanced judgments upon the clash of loyalties or the choice of evils; all the liberal speculations upon the limits of government or the proper conditions of justice; all the distinctions between the use and abuse of private property; all the rules and exceptions about the great evil of war; all the allowances for human weakness and all the provisions for human health; all this mass of medieval humanism shriveled and curled up in smoke before the eyes of its enemy; and that great passionate peasant rejoiced darkly, because the day of the Intellect was over. Sentence by sentence it burned, and syllogism by syllogism; and the golden maxims turned to golden flames in that last and dying glory of all that had once been the great wisdom of the Greeks. The great central Synthesis of history, that was to have linked the ancient with the modern world, went up in smoke and, for half the world, was forgotten like a vapor.”   – G.K. Chesterton

Hmm: Mass or HyVee?

Several weeks ago, I blogged about liturgy as a form of ‘play.’  However, my time at the monastery brought to mind yet another analogy for understanding liturgy, one that arises from the etymological roots of the word.


Watching these monks gather seven times a day to ‘do’ psalmody, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year inspires real reverence in me for their relentless commitment to tireless, ceaseless worship.  It also reminded me of something a favorite Orthodox theologian of mine said on a podcast I listened to very recently: ‘I had a seminary professor who told us that when we finished celebrating the Divine Liturgy, we should be exhausted.  Liturgy is hard work.’

The western flight from boredom, and the corresponding obsession with being ceaselessly entertained by pleasant novelties strikes against the grain of what liturgy is really all about: doing the hard work of redemption.  In the Divine Liturgy, the Spirit joins our toilsome, tedious and wearied labors to Christ’s grueling paschal work, so as to co-fashion the materials out of which the New Creation is being built, e.g. justice, peace, charity, truth, forgiveness, beauty, sacrifice.

‘Doing Liturgy’ is how we find all of our life’s bled sacrifices caught up into eternity, never to be lost or wasted.  It’s also where we receive into our very bodies the Laboring Christ who bids us ‘Go!’ and gather more material for the Kingdom.  Then we return, and ‘do’ it again.

Get ≈ Give

What we give at Mass is sacrifice, and what we get out of Mass is more sacrifice.  Hence, only those who have consented to embrace Christ’s call to become a ‘living sacrifice’ will find the Mass captivating, entrancing, eminently desirable.  Apart from that logic of sacrifice, Mass is wholly unintelligible and, well, boring.  If Mass at heart is the oblation of Golgotha, the bloody slaughter of God on the sacrificial altar of the Cross, then those who wish to offer this same oblation must be willing to imitate its fiery and consuming core.

If we want lollypops, tootsie rolls or other pleasant sweets, it’s best we go to HyVee.

And I do really like HyVee.

Post Script: while you read this, no doubt, those monks are once again engaging in Passion play, liturgical labors, singing for the umpteenth time those same psalms…

For you.

Yet again, I have managed to say nothing new.  Oh well.

Neals: Called to be Saints

Yesterday my wife and I were overjoyed to share the news of a new job I have been offered, and accepted at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, LA.  I will be a professor of spiritual theology.

FL CatholicFamily becomes IA CatholicFamily becomes NOLA CatholicFamily.

Seminoles become Hawkeyes/Cyclones become Saints.  X-treme, I know.

What a great privilege it will be to be able to serve the renewal of the priesthood of Jesus Christ as a theologian.

But it will be profoundly sad when we leave behind such an extraordinary community of people; the Iowa saints.

God Trap-

Here’s a story that links snow, married couples, miracles and a giddy laugh.

I had the privilege this last week, thanks to my wife’s generous sacrifice, to go away to New Melleray monastery in eastern Iowa.

It’s a monastery of Cistercian monks of the Strict Observance, aka Trappists.  I have always tried to make my annual retreat in a Trappist monastery for the last twenty five years, largely because of their reverence for silence, austerity and stripped-down simplicity.

‘Be still…’

In the midst of the retreat it snowed for about 12 hours, and as you know when it snows the sounds that usually fill the air are muffled and there is a great hush that blankets the earth; especially, it seems, when nightfall comes.  How awesome that nature itself conspired to augment the noiseless climate of my monastic retreat into the winter forests of eastern Iowa, making a receptive space for the Whisper through whom all things were made.

I had the chance to visit with two of the monks here, and received two piercing insights from them.

Open handed

The first shared with me the ‘secret’ to the gift of peace that visitors experience when they retreat here: ‘The monks here live a life of self-emptying, a kenosis, and the fruit of such a life lived in Christ is that others freely receive what we freely give away.  When I first came to this monastery, I would experience superabundant consolations in prayer; but after I took my vows, they were taken away.  I quickly realized that my vocation was to surrender my need to cling to the sweetness of prayer so that others who come here seeking strength in the world might taste that sweetness.’  He commented further on a family he knew, ‘wherein the husband and wife lived such self-effacing lives – they really loved each other, and their children – that anyone who came to their home to visit discovered great peace and received inner strength.’  He concluded, ‘so anywhere people of faith choose self-emptying as a way of life, others are filled by divine grace which hangs in the haunts of the selfless.’


The other monk, who had to be in his 80s, shared with me stories of miracles he had been privileged to witness over his 60 years in religious life.  Although the stories he shared were themselves remarkable, it was the childlike joy in his face that made me want to hit the floor in adoration of God-with-him.  ‘Isn’t God wonderful?’ he asked me with a twinkly smile and a giddy laugh.  I thought to myself, ‘God is only so self-evidently wonderful for those who have such simple wonder, like you, Brother.’

I love monks.  And I thank God for their lives lived for us in the world who struggle to lift earth to heaven, and bring heaven down to earth.

Prayer, Penance

“In all the Dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life and of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion.” – United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


‘ …the purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men. And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world.’  – Pope Benedict XVI