Behold the Mystery

Today I simply want to share Colleen Nixon’s gorgeous English rendering of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Eucharistic poem-prayer, Pange lingua gloriosi. She calls it, Behold the Mystery. It’s my favorite of her many musical accomplishments. Enjoy:

With Me

Another “must share” homily from Omaha — I am trying to stretch them out into August to not overwhelm you with too much bright light at once. The priest who homilized is in his 70’s, with the heart of a young man.

The Gospel that day that he preached on was this:

While Jesus was speaking to the crowds,
his mother and his brothers appeared outside,
wishing to speak with him.
Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside,
asking to speak with you.”
But he said in reply to the one who told him,
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Here are his words, reconstructed from scribbled notes jotted down on a crumpled piece of paper I found on the floor.

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Who are you? Who do you think you are? Ponder anew. Jesus tells us today: we are his brothers, sisters, mothers. The Father binds us all as one family if we do His will, which means looking to Jesus, the Son, as our model.

Growing up, my father was not there for me. Now, he was a good man, a hard working man and was always there for us. But he was never with us, with me. He was always distant, somewhere else when we was with us, and he never really spent close time with me as a boy. He was a strong and stoic figure that I feared, admired, but could not say I loved.

I grew up and matured, let go of the hurts and resentments. Forgave him for not being there, for not showing affection or concern for my little world, for not allowing me to have childhood memories playing with my dad. Jesus healed many of the shadows of anger and resentment in me and taught me to love my father and not nurse my own wounds.

As my father got older, he grew sick and I wasn’t sure how long we’d have with him. I just knew that now was the time to share with him my regrets, but without anger or hurt. Just so I could understand why. Why couldn’t he be there with us.

He listened attentively and, after a long pause, told me about his own childhood. He had never, not ever once spoken of his father to us. I knew only that his father died when he was a teenager. He told me that his own father had abused him, beat him, rejected him as his son. “Before [my father died,” he said, “he had already left me an orphan.” I asked my father why he decided to tell me this and not answer my question directly. He said, again after a long pause, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I never knew what it was like to be a son. To have a father. So I don’t know how to treat you as a son.”

It was a sacred moment.

Years later I asked myself while on a retreat, “Then how have I learned how to be a father as a priest?” It was clear at once to me as the exchange of Jesus and Phillip immediately leapt into my mind [14:8-10]:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?”

Jesus, so intimately close to the Father, had shown me the Father and invited me into His own Sonship, to experience what it means to be loved by the Father, what it means to be a beloved son. There in the Heart of Jesus I had learned how to be a father, but Jesus did it so humbly I hadn’t even noticed He was doing it. I thought, I don’t have to imagine what the invisible, seemingly distant Father is like! The Son, who became human to make divinity “closer to me than I am to myself,” bears within Him the Father [John 14:11]; and He’s the perfect Image of the Father, His Word [John 1:1-14; Hebrews 1:1ff]. Looking at Jesus’ human face, into His eyes of love and compassion, is looking into a mirror of the Father’s invisible face, into His compassionate eyes. Jesus also says, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” [Matthew 11:27].

I asked Jesus again and again as I looked at the crucifix: “Show me the Father.” I heard in my heart these words describing the prodigal father: “…while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” ([Luke 15:20].

We say Jesus is God-with-us, but Jesus also opens us to the vision of the Father-with-us. Playing. Rejoicing. Working. Running with unspeakable joy toward us.

T.S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I had been on a quest to recover the love I had never had, but yearned for, not knowing how to recover it. And when I came to Jesus, who stretched His arm out to me and invited me into His family, I found myself back to by own beginning; to the moment when God, in the womb of my mother, had breathed the breath of life in me and loved me into existence. Jesus led me, and I arrived where I started, and I came to know the place for the first time. New wonder. New joy. New gratitude. New life.

And the Spirit, who had been leading my exploration all along, murmuring indiscernible groans within, finally became fully articulate and cried out in me: “Abba! Father!”

I’m home.



My homily notes

Affair of the Mind

Re-post from 2013

Taken from

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials. — CCC #2354

I spoke with a woman recently whose husband had indulged in pornography for several years of their marriage. She gave me permission to share the general lines of her story.

It was crushing to listen to the pain she suffered.

What stood out most to me as she recounted its disastrous effects on their marriage, was this statement:

What suffered most was my sense of personal worth and dignity. I felt demeaned and betrayed … The greatest harm was the immediate erosion of trust, and the terrible feeling of being insecure and worthless. I was clearly not enough for him … Having happened on some of the filth he’d been viewing gave me a vivid awareness just how vile the images and sounds were, and so knew this was what was in his mind each time he looked at me. Once I discovered it, his every gesture of physical intimacy toward me made me physically nauseous.

Eventually he got help in a 12-step sex-addict program, she forgave him, he rebuilt trust and their marriage has been renewed.

I thought about it over the next several days. I collected various thoughts in my journal.

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In a Christian culture men are gentlemen, careful to honor the dignity of each woman and promote her feminine genius. St. JP2 says that every man, like St. Joseph, is called to be a “protector of every woman’s honor and dignity.” Men honor every woman because every woman is held in honor in the heart of God.

The stats show that a staggaring percentage of men, and growing percentage of women, consume pornography regularly. Porn breeds isolation and self-absorbtion, trivializes and degrades the sexual act as a covenant sign, rewires the brain with an addict’s neuro-grid and enslaves the imagination. As theologian David Hart says well:

The damage that pornography can do — to minds or cultures — is not by any means negligible. Especially in our modern age of passive entertainment, saturated as we are by an unending storm of noises and images and barren prattle, portrayals of violence or of sexual degradation possess a remarkable power to permeate, shape, and deprave the imagination; and the imagination is, after all, the wellspring of desire, of personality, of character. Anyone who would claim that constant or even regular exposure to pornography does not affect a person at the profoundest level of consciousness is either singularly stupid or singularly degenerate.

I once wrote an email to an acquaintance, a Catholic married man who struggled with porn addiction. I remember agonizing over how to respond to his honest and tortured confession. Among other things, I wrote:

God loved your wife before you ever did, and He loves from all eternity each and every one of those women who are exploited in porn. High price for a cheap thrill. God loves them far more than you ever could, and will judge you one day on how you handled these pearls of great price — His daughters.

Along with links to resources for overcoming addiction, I included in the email Michelangelo’s painting of the creation of Adam. Under the picture, I wrote:

Note who’s held tight under the arm of God as he creates Adam. It’s the woman, Eve, whom God has not yet drawn from Adam’s side and entrusted to Him as His gift and image. She is still God’s dream awaiting creation … Pope John Paul II has a powerful comment in a letter he wrote on the dignity of women (Mulieris dignitatem) to this effect: “The dignity and the vocation of women find their eternal source in the heart of God. Consequently each man must look within himself to see whether she who was entrusted to him as a sister in humanity, as a spouse, has not become in his heart an object of adultery; to see whether she who, in different ways, is the co-subject of his existence in the world, has not become for him an ‘object’ — an object of pleasure, of exploitation. Christ’s way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women.” In invite you, my friend, to join the protest.

Sub specie aeternitatis — in the light of eternity — one sees everything differently.

Porn culture calls for the evangelization of imagination, which means the purification of imagination — not merely by a renunciation of porn’s graven images, but by an encounter with icons that uncover the true dignity and beauty of the human body made to glorify God.

The Christian gentleman stands on the front lines of the New Evangelization. Let God’s chivalrous revolution, once conceived in eternity, begin in time. In you.

God alone for love alone


I wrote this poem of sorts to a contemplative nun I met a number of years ago. She prayed often for me and for my family, and I wanted to thank her, as a layman, for the radical gift of her vowed consecration to Christ. It’s very “Neal” in its language, but if you can get beyond that maybe you can catch at least some sense of the beauty of that state of life I tried to capture. Below the poem is the image I used to pray with before I wrote. It’s of St. Catherine of Siena drinking from the side wound of Christ, painted in the mid-15th century.

Ancilla Domini (Handmaid of the Lord)

God alone, for us alone you live

there, ‘neath those stone vaults

bent, veiled, heart aloft

celestial curtains rip, fall away,

stripped down by love’s pine.

God-revealed for us, to us, in us

by and through your fiery prayer

that burns night and day

up-toward your Bridegroom:

Come! Abide! Remain!

In your gathered hours

outpouring grace, sacred space

where Wisdom at last plays free,

His children all-guileless.

You never do violence, save by love

as your peaceful wills are ever-warring

twixt falling night and rising Day,

conquering death by means of serenest love.

From nuptial chambers — yours! —

leaks divine Fire, O wedded Bride,

out into our fields, far and wide

from whence we draw warmth and light

in the long dark night’s bitter chill.

My sister, for us

stand so near

the Master’s side-torn Flood,

drink deep and

share with us, parched in the midday heat,

the Bridegroom’s Vintage best:

God-crushed, pressed, distilled into

inebriating Blood, spiced Wine

of the ever-blessing, blood-red Vine.

You, my sister, called near

to gather from the Wellspring’s shore

for our salvation you implore:

For us you die —

we who have been called

out into the tilling field

to trade in the market,

to love in the home,

to sweat in the sun

that we might lift earth and sky

worthily, rightly,

daily with, through and in you

unto God Most High.

Deo gratias et gratias tibi.


Word Made Face

Repost 2012

Breaking News: the father’s role in a child’s life is crucial.

When I was made aware last year of a study that found the average American parent spends fewer than 3 minutes a day in non-directive communication (directive meaning “do this, don’t do this”) with their child, I thought of the dangers built into a culture that discourages frequent real-time, in the flesh communication within a family. TV face, screen face often replaces face to face. Having face time with the ones you love is an irreplaceable dimension of being human, of fostering communion — and it is an irreplaceable means of forming, “getting into” the mind and heart of your child.

God’s pedagogy in the Bible followed this pattern, as God’s incessant pleading with man for face-time in prayer found its completion in the Incarnation. In Jesus we see God’s human face, we see God pursuing a face-to-face encounter with us. That blows my mind. And remember that Jesus spent three long, intimate and uninterrupted years building a face-to-face friendship with his disciples (cf. John 15:15).

Stealing Back Time

A family asceticism must include a regular, rhythmic setting aside of computer and media technologies — activities that steal away family face time — in favor of engaging in close-range activities of all sorts. In our family, every Sunday is a “screen free” Sunday, meaning we put away every electronic device and rediscover the world as it was millennia before computers, iPhones, social media or internet existed. We do make exceptions for football or edifying movies. Our children think “edifying” is code word for torture, but we are working hard to change that.

On the nights I’m able, when our children go to bed I lie down on the floor between their beds and talk about the day. I ask lots of questions and offer subtle commentaries that hopefully help them think through life in the light of faith and good common sense. Even though these conversations often end with my falling asleep, or speaking some gibberish as I nod off, I’ve found these nighttime exchanges have been the most important (and special) moments of parenting. Helping form their minds and hearts seems somehow much easier at night. It’s hard sometimes to choose to disconnect from everything else  to be with them. My grandfather taught me how to do that when he would say, “Tommy, come waste time with your Pop talking about things that don’t really matter.” But they did matter because as we talked I felt that I mattered.

Here’s a study to that effect…

Adolescent kids retreat to their rooms when you try to ask them how they are and hide out with their friends so often that they spend less and less time with family, right? Read more…

Do you know me, O God?

We had a fantastic faculty retreat here at the seminary recently, and I took copious notes. So know they will be bleeding into my blog now and again. Let me start with a teaser.

The retreat master was talking with us about prayer — a good retreat topic — and addressing the question of what constitutes a healthy and full prayer life as a Christian. He said something like this (as I furiously jotted down his insights in my notebook):

Prayer is really at core about fostering an intimate exchange between each person and God. It’s heart speaking to heart, a shared exchange of personal knowledge. Prayer is to know God and to allow oneself to be known by God. The first part we as priests can be really good at. We study, think, reflect and gain all kinds of relevant God-data. We can say we really know who God is. We know all about him and are experts who can speak eloquently and movingly about God and his ways. But can we really say that we really know God or that God really knows us? We might retort in regard to that second point: “God is omniscient! Of course God knows me. It’s a given.” Yes, yes. But is that it, really? Think about it. If I meet someone who’s never really spoken to me before, hasn’t told me about themselves or asked me personally anything about myself, or even shown any interest in really getting to know the living and breathing me; and suddenly they walk up to me and tell me they know me, know everything about me — and start sharing with me intimate details from my life. Well, I’m going to get creeped out. That’s creepy, right? But you see, Jesus isn’t a creep. He invites us to reveal ourselves to him in prayer, to share our hearts and minds and desires and frustrations. Everything. And he wants to do the same, and waits to see if we are interested. If you were God, how interested would you really look in what God had to say? How carefully, attentively, lovingly do you listen for his voice? And let me say, ask yourself this: If all God knew about you was what you shared with him in prayer, how well would he really know you? If you can’t say that God knows you — based on your self disclosure — at least as much as the person in your life who knows you best, then your prayer life is seriously deficient. Using divine omniscience to excuse ourselves from opening up to God, pouring out our hearts to him and speaking to him about all things, great and small, is a misuse of our theology of divine omniscience. Jesus stands at the door and knocks, but if we keep the door shut and locked, and sit curled up with our theology book on the couch as we bear our soul’s deepest secrets to a friend…well, Jesus may say, when we meet him one day: “I don’t know you.”

Falling in Love

After lots of heavy posts of late, time for a little lightness. A triple-play:

First, a funny birthday card I received that killed me (rofl):

Second, my daughter Maria and her friend have a new music video, singing Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend,” which is about a girl giving advice to her new beau on how to break up with his girlfriend gently and lovingly. My favorite line is, “Then you tell her that the only way her heart will mend is when she learns to love again.” I am quite certain that my 15 year old daughter will (at any moment) either experience a sudden age reversal (that will then remain somewhere around here) or maybe even unexpectedly contemplate cloistered Carmelite convents in the Alps in response to my earnest 2 a.m. prayers to God. Oh, yes, or whatever God wants. Enjoy:

Lastly, I’ll share with you a song I love, in honor of my wife. It’s a song she and I had played at our wedding reception. This version of it was sung by a member of my daughters’ favorite singing group, Twenty One Pilots. It’s delightful. Enjoy: