Aaron Feis, Requiescat in pace

“They are worthy of special consideration and honor, those Christians who, following in the footsteps and teachings of the Lord Jesus, have voluntarily and freely offered their lives for others and have persevered until death in this regard.” — Pope Francis

[Dioceses] especially should be attentive to recognizing among their members the younger men and women of those Churches who have given witness to holiness in [everyday secular conditions and the married state] and who can be an example for others, so that, if the case calls for it, they might propose them to be beatified and canonized

The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God’s grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history. — St. John Paul II

NOLA, If You Axe Me

My annual post, almost Mardi Gras.

“In New Orleans I have noticed that people are happiest when they are going to funerals, making money, taking care of the dead, or putting on masks at Mardi Gras so nobody knows who they are. New Orleans is both intimately related to the South and yet in a real sense cut adrift not only from the South but from the rest of Louisiana, somewhat like Mont St. Michel awash at high tide. One comes upon it, moreover, in the unlikeliest of places, by penetrating the depths of the Bible Belt, running the gauntlet of Klan territory, the pine barrens of South Mississippi, Bogalusa, and the Florida parishes of Louisiana and ending up in the French Quarter.” ― Walker Percy

Hectic, havoc and the Jesus prayer

“Sinai Event.” #godhavoc emergingtruths.com

Savoring the encounter with Jesus is the remedy for the paralysis of routine, for it opens us up to the daily “havoc” of grace. — Pope Francis

This will be a hectic week of deadlines, on through the weekend upcoming, so I have no idea what time I will have to write here. I have given up on saying I won’t post for a specific amount of time, but just know it’s gonna be hit or miss.

Pope Francis’ words above, from last week’s homily on the Presentation, really ring true to me. Prayer that gives God permission to be God in us (which is the whole point of the first 3 petitions of the Our Father) unleashes havoc on evil, on fear, on anger and addiction; havoc on my tightly controlled securities; havoc on my plans for God. I mean, the Virgin Mary prayed like that just once — “let it be done to me according to your word” — and it set in motion all KINDS of personal, familial, national, imperial, preternatural and cosmic havoc.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore. — Isaiah 9:2-7

God, play havoc on all that mitigates against your peace reigning in our lives.

An AME pastor I knew in Florida, whom I have quoted here before, totally got this. He used to open his Wednesday night worship services with a marvelous prayer:

O Lord, invade our staid and steady space
With your raucous and unsteady grace

The Jesus Prayer I have found to be especially poignant in this regard. Saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” repeated rosary-like in the heart on and off throughout the day, unseals the only Name which effects what it signifies, i.e.God saves. Ask the Egyptians what THAT looks like.

I post below a rhythmic chanting of it by the Russian monks of Valaam.

I have used this Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen quote probably a dozen times here, but it is just so well stated and seems a most fitting parting. God bless you, dear readers.

There can be so much escapism in our striving for a “spiritual life.” We often flee from the concrete, apparently banal reality that is filled with God’s presence to an artificial existence that corresponds with our own ideas of piety and holiness, but where God is not present. As long as we want to decide for ourselves where we will find God, we need not fear that we shall meet him! We will meet only ourselves, a touched-up version of ourselves. Genuine spirituality begins when we are prepared to die. Could there be a quicker way to die than to let God form our lives from moment to moment and continually to consent to his action?


Deep is calling on deep, in the roar of your torrents; your billows and all your waves swept over me. – Psalm 42:8

I will again pause from posting until Monday or so, as I have a busy stretch and travel. God be with you!

Black Clouds, Birthdays and Breaking

“He lowered the heavens and came down, a black cloud under his feet. He came enthroned on the Cherubim, he flew on the wings of the wind.” – Psalm 18:10

A few important  things today:

Random: When I saw this photo, all I could think of was that verse.

Favor: Next Friday (12/22) is my daughter Maria’s 18th birthday. For those of you who appreciate her Mashley musical gifts I’ve oft shared here (sample here, she’s playing ukulele), I would love to collect little affirmations for her. So if you feel so moved, kindly leave a comment here (or email me at tneal@nds.edu) with your real/pen name and I will collect them for her. Thank you for your indulgence.

Breaking: I will take a break from blogging until after Christmas (planning to resume before January 6, Epiphany) as I wrap up a long semester and jump headlong back into family.

After 1,324 posts, close to 870,600 words (yikes Matt. 12:37), how exceedingly grateful I am to those who have over the last ~6 years read and commented on my work, who share their life and faith journeys here. To name some who have paused to comment here —

NOS, Joanna, Jennifer, AMDG, TMM, Jerry, Sherri, Bill, Beads2Rosaries, Ona, Austin, Claude, OneView, DismasDancing, Judy, Mystic, Tatia, LP, Melissa, Pat, sonflower, Michael, Denise, Louise, Ben, Susan, Susie, Maureen, GuadaGirl, Tom, Olga, Megan, David, Paulette, Tim, Thom, Br. Patrick, Fr. Jim, Sr. Assumpta, Katy, Kathy, Mary Alice, Lisa, MB, Whoopie Cushion (!), Hunter, Jeane, Tara, Suzanne, Morgan-Anthony, Laura, Victorious Love, Kathy, Whimsy, Anne and the delightful surprise of “Hope for the Flowers” Trina Paulus.

A staggering 3,247 comments (sans my replies). As I scrolled back to 2011 and on forward I was overwhelmed by the depth and beauty of what has been shared here by you all.

I am grateful to God who uses this e-hearth to bring light and warmth to those who come and stay for a while, certainly to me. My prayers for you all, by name.

A blessed last days of Advent and Christmas Octave/Season to you and your loved ones. I will leave you with three quotes that get at why I write — Pope Benedict XVI, Karl Rahner, Annie Dillard — and then let BarlowGirl sing you into Christmas.

God loves us deeply, totally and without making distinctions. He calls us to friendship with him, he makes us part of a reality beyond every imagination and every thought and word: his divine life itself.

The task of the theologian is to explain everything through God, and to explain God as unexplainable.

Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking. We should amass half dressed in long lines like tribesmen and shake gourds at each other, to wake up; instead we watch television and miss the show.

My Advent Back-Flip


This post all about me, so there you have it.

I deactivated my iPhone and have returned to a flip phone for Advent, and from then on.

It’s not a crusade, or some grand protest against smartphones and the like. It was a decision of personal necessity, a recognition of discerned limits.

When my family first got me an iPhone 27 months ago for my birthday, I told them that I had long resisted getting one because I knew myself well enough to know it would be hard for me not to turn it into (1) a portable, total-work-portal and (2) to over-engage my knack for prolixity in communicating with the revolutionary voice-to-text. I give new meaning to the word “hypertext.”

I anticipated I would be tempted, and so it was.

I fought valiantly, devised various schemes for limiting myself, but alas! I was vanquished. I’m intense, and my mind never sleeps. The iPhone, well suited to such a penchant, offered me ever-fresh fodder in steady supply. Good things, indeed, just far too many of them. During our anniversary getaway in October, I realized, after a long and wonderfully deep conversation with my wife, that my mentality — my presence of mind — had become diffused, distracted, doubled by the iPhone. In fact, “doubled” best expressed for me the effect, as the phone had shaped in me a potent bias toward a virtual ‘elsewhere,’ detracting from the concrete world of my immediate daily existence that demands primacy as it contains my primary vocation.

My asceticism in general largely looks like barricade building, as I identify my weaknesses and temptations and then systematically limit their access to preferred suppliers. For me, this works best as, instead of choosing to talk to the devil directly, I just avoid and block my access to his favored haunts. As a friend of mine (who has lived a lot of life) often says, “I can resist everything but temptation.” lol And I usually bring other people into the act, to ensure accountability, as I am too willing to excuse small transgressions until they snowball into sizable ones. I imagine I’m not different than most. My wife is my technology accountability partner, and she has been excellent in keeping me honest, in her typically brutally honest way. Deo gratias.

Yes, I have lost quite a number of wonderful features the iPhone afforded me, which are such gifts; especially group texting, voice-to-text, and easy access to calendar/email. But a week into it, the benefits of flipping have been immediate and wondrous, with some being surprisingly unexpected. If I seem to be exaggerating, I’m not. I’ll name four benefits to give you a taste:

  1. I very quickly experienced a freeing diminishment of those diffusing, distracting and doubling effects, and a rapid re-entry into the slow moving, mundane and concrete world of my immediate daily existence. So much so, that I have had some genuine ‘wow’ moments in seeing my mentality re-center and settle back on the faces and places in front of me. The world has shaded brighter, more colorful, more vivid.
  2. Having lost my GPS, I now have returned to a favorite past-time: reading and memorizing road maps. I found myself this week dazzled at the resurrection of my spacial imagination, realizing I have never really learned Louisiana in my own mind. All I could think of last weekend as I drove to Albany, LA to do a parish mission was Psalm 84:5: “They are happy in whose hearts are the roads to Zion” (Psalm 84:5)!
  3. Now that texting (and emailing limited to my desktop) without voice-to-text is quite an effort, like handwriting, what I text is much more intentional, concise and thought out. I’ve remembered a bit more just how much I appreciate individual words and the labor of writing them. Flip texting (and desktop emailing) also slows down the volume of correspondence massively, which, while I lose out on many good things, has allowed me to re-appreciate simplicity. It has also made me much much more realistic about how many conversations I can (and should) actually sustain.
  4. As the camera-video features are pathetic, I have lost the tendency I had to want to capture, more than simply experience, the world happening around me in real-time. I love taking photos of people and things to treasure and share, but I found the iPhone made me think more and more of life as better captured and shared than experienced raw in the moment without a lens and savored later in conversation and memory.

I share all of this as a personal quest to place digital communications technology in service to my humanity; to my vocation; to my quest to be, as my colleague Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome says so well, “connected toward communion.” I wish to be able to worthily receive the sacrament of the present moment at every moment. I wish to conserve my ability to attend with love, before all else, to my neighbor, to my nigh-bor, the nearby inhabitants of my immediate world that command my attention first and foremost. To receive the grace that’s in my face.

My Advent motto is, Simplify, do or die. Time will tell.

I’ll leave you with 10 additional reasons I, also, preferred the flip. Hopefully they will make you smile.

Orientation and such

Sunset on Sunday

The biosphere of Truth is mystery, inaccessible depths, and unreachable heights. Its homeland is the eschaton, the absolute future beyond the horizon of history—and its major role in the present is to be constantly in a state of opposition to our attempts to make absolutes out of some of our human attitudes, approaches, and opinions, which are limited by our own individual (not universal) experience. — Tomáš Halík

Just love this quote. His view of Truth is why I, after 30 years of sustained reflecting on the same truths of faith, find myself increasingly spellbound over its limitless depth and dynamism. Every time I seem to finally grasp a particular facet of faith, it immediately outpaces me and transcends my pretentious claims to comprehension. The word “comprehend” comes from the Latin com + prehendere, “to entirely catch hold of, seize.” If there is one thing that the God of Israel is clear about, it’s that no one manipulates, captures, circumscribes God, save His own Spirit who “searches all things, even the deep things of God [ta bathē tou theou]”  (1 Cor. 2:10).

But St. Paul gives us a remarkable hope in the face of the God of unfathomable depth:

“For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).

To do theology as a Christian is to be given a share in the mind of Christ. Theology is defined by St. Anselm as fides quaerens intellectum, “faith questing after understanding,” with the verb quaerens being the operative term for those interested in exploring ta bathē tou theou. I wholly concur with St. Augustine, Si enim comprehendis, non est Deus, “If you comprehend, it is not God.” I am not agnostic, because I believe God is knowable. I am apophatic, because I believe God is incomprehensible, always surpassing my mind’s capacity in its love-driven journey into Infinite mystery. Christ is God’s Word with a human mind, is the Way into the Truth of the living God, and the Spirit, who gives us a share in the mind of Christ, permits us to join in His sojourn into the Father’s Word; and so into the Father. Doing theology makes me want to say with Isaiah:

“Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:6).

Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!

Utterly terrifying, thrilling, more so every day.

Okay, so…

It’s that time of year again. This is Orientation Week at the seminary, classes begin next week, I am finishing grading final papers for a summer course and I have a family event this weekend. So we will see what things small, big or non-existent make it to this Blog between now and Sunday! In any event, my prayers are with my readers, and I would be grateful for your own prayers for my intentions.

In the mean time, I will leave you with two totally random offerings.

First, I thought I would share a window into my seminary work. Here is a brief presentation I give every year to new seminarians on our culture of “intellectual formation” at Notre Dame. I gave it yesterday morning. Click here.

Second, here is Sia’s To Be Human, produced for the DC movie Wonder Woman (which I loved).

Peace and joy.