JP2, we love you!

Today is the memorial feast of St. John Paul II.

In his honor, I re-post here Cardinal Ratzinger’s unforgettable homily at JP2’s funeral Mass. And at the bottom of the speech is a very moving one minute video of the last time the Pope gave his blessing urbi et orbi, to “the city and the world” on Easter Sunday. Its eloquence and power can only be understood in the light of the Cross.

Cardinal Ratzinger sprinkling the casket of Pope John Paul II.

“Follow me.” The Risen Lord says these words to Peter. They are his last words to this disciple, chosen to shepherd his flock. “Follow me” — this lapidary saying of Christ can be taken as the key to understanding the message which comes to us from the life of our late beloved Pope John Paul II. Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality — our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude.

These are the sentiments that inspire us, brothers and sisters in Christ, present here in St. Peter’s Square, in neighboring streets and in various other locations within the city of Rome, where an immense crowd, silently praying, has gathered over the last few days. I greet all of you from my heart. In the name of the College of Cardinals, I also wish to express my respects to heads of state, heads of government and the delegations from various countries.

I greet the authorities and official representatives of other Churches and Christian Communities, and likewise those of different religions. Next I greet the archbishops, bishops, priests, religious men and women and the faithful who have come here from every continent; especially the young, whom John Paul II liked to call the future and the hope of the Church. My greeting is extended, moreover, to all those throughout the world who are united with us through radio and television in this solemn celebration of our beloved Holy Father’s funeral.

Follow me — as a young student Karol Wojtyla was thrilled by literature, the theater and poetry. Working in a chemical plant, surrounded and threatened by the Nazi terror, he heard the voice of the Lord: Follow me! In this extraordinary setting he began to read books of philosophy and theology, and then entered the clandestine seminary established by Cardinal Sapieha. After the war he was able to complete his studies in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian University of Krakow.

How often, in his letters to priests and in his autobiographical books, has he spoken to us about his priesthood, to which he was ordained on November 1, 1946. In these texts he interprets his priesthood with particular reference to three sayings of the Lord.

First: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (John 15:16). The second saying is: “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). And then: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love” (John 15:9). In these three sayings we see the heart and soul of our Holy Father. He really went everywhere, untiringly, in order to bear fruit, fruit that lasts.

“Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way!” is the title of his next-to-last book. “Rise, let us be on our way!” — with these words he roused us from a lethargic faith, from the sleep of the disciples of both yesterday and today. “Rise, let us be on our way!” he continues to say to us even today. The Holy Father was a priest to the last, for he offered his life to God for his flock and for the entire human family, in a daily self-oblation for the service of the Church, especially amid the sufferings of his final months. And in this way he became one with Christ, the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep.

Finally, “abide in my love”: The Pope who tried to meet everyone, who had an ability to forgive and to open his heart to all, tells us once again today, with these words of the Lord, that by abiding in the love of Christ we learn, at the school of Christ, the art of true love.

Follow me! In July 1958, the young priest Karol Wojtyla began a new stage in his journey with the Lord and in the footsteps of the Lord. Karol had gone to the Masuri lakes for his usual vacation, along with a group of young people who loved canoeing. But he brought with him a letter inviting him to call on the primate of Poland, Cardinal Wyszynski. He could guess the purpose of the meeting: He was to be appointed as the auxiliary bishop of Krakow.

Leaving the academic world, leaving this challenging engagement with young people, leaving the great intellectual endeavor of striving to understand and interpret the mystery of that creature which is man and of communicating to today’s world the Christian interpretation of our being — all this must have seemed to him like losing his very self, losing what had become the very human identity of this young priest. Follow me — Karol Wojtyla accepted the appointment, for he heard in the Church’s call the voice of Christ. And then he realized how true are the Lord’s words: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it” (Luke 17:33).

Our Pope — and we all know this — never wanted to make his own life secure, to keep it for himself; he wanted to give of himself unreservedly, to the very last moment, for Christ and thus also for us. And thus he came to experience how everything which he had given over into the Lord’s hands, came back to him in a new way. His love of words, of poetry, of literature, became an essential part of his pastoral mission and gave new vitality, new urgency, new attractiveness to the preaching of the Gospel, even when it is a sign of contradiction.

Follow me! In October 1978, Cardinal Wojtyla once again heard the voice of the Lord. Once more there took place that dialogue with Peter reported in the Gospel of this Mass: “Simon, son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep!” To the Lord’s question, “Karol, do you love me?” the archbishop of Krakow answered from the depths of his heart: “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” The love of Christ was the dominant force in the life of our beloved Holy Father. Anyone who ever saw him pray, who ever heard him preach, knows that. Thanks to his being profoundly rooted in Christ, he was able to bear a burden which transcends merely human abilities: that of being the shepherd of Christ’s flock, his universal Church.

This is not the time to speak of the specific content of this rich pontificate. I would like only to read two passages of today’s liturgy which reflect central elements of his message. In the first reading, St. Peter says — and with St. Peter, the Pope himself — “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. You know the word (that) he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:34-36). And in the second reading, St. Paul — and with St. Paul, our late Pope — exhorts us, crying out: “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, beloved” (Philippians 4:1).

Follow me! Together with the command to feed his flock, Christ proclaimed to Peter that he would die a martyr’s death. With those words, which conclude and sum up the dialogue on love and on the mandate of the universal shepherd, the Lord recalls another dialogue, which took place during the Last Supper. There Jesus had said: “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied: “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow me afterward” (John 13:33,36). Jesus from the Supper went toward the Cross, went toward his resurrection — he entered into the paschal mystery; and Peter could not yet follow him. Now — after the resurrection — comes the time, comes this “afterward.”

By shepherding the flock of Christ, Peter enters into the paschal mystery, he goes toward the cross and the resurrection. The Lord says this in these words: “when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18).

In the first years of his pontificate, still young and full of energy, the Holy Father went to the very ends of the earth, guided by Christ. But afterward, he increasingly entered into the communion of Christ’s sufferings; increasingly he understood the truth of the words: “someone else will dress you.” And in this very communion with the suffering Lord, tirelessly and with renewed intensity, he proclaimed the Gospel, the mystery of that love which goes to the end (cf. John 13:1).

He interpreted for us the paschal mystery as a mystery of divine mercy. In his last book, he wrote: The limit imposed upon evil “is ultimately Divine Mercy” (“Memory and Identity,” pp. 60- 61). And reflecting on the assassination attempt, he said: “In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order: the order of love. … It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love and draws forth even from sin a great flowering of good” (pp. 189-190). Impelled by this vision, the Pope suffered and loved in communion with Christ, and that is why the message of his suffering and his silence proved so eloquent and so fruitful.

Divine Mercy: the Holy Father found the purest reflection of God’s mercy in the Mother of God. He, who at an early age had lost his own mother, loved his divine mother all the more. He heard the words of the crucified Lord as addressed personally to him: “Behold your Mother.” And so he did as the beloved disciple did: “he took her into his own home” (John 19:27) — “Totus tuus.” And from the mother he learned to conform himself to Christ.

None of us can ever forget how in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing “urbi et orbi.” We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the eternal glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Co-hosting “In the Heartland”


Bishop Pates, Cardinal Arinze and myself after the show. Photo by Lisa Bourne


Nicholas and Dad in 2009. Photo by Lisa Bourne

When I lived in Iowa, I served for three years as a co-host on a weekly radio show with Bishop Richard Pates which was aptly called, “In the Heartland with Bishop Pates.” The show was a real growing experience for me. I had zero interest in being a co-host when the Bishop asked me, but was grateful for the opportunity.

There were some embarrasing moments and some euphoric moments. Among the high points were interviews with the late Francis Cardinal George, Francis Cardinal Arinze, JP2’s close friend Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, and the day when my son Nicholas came to co-host with me at the Iowa State Fair while Bishop was away. My most embarrasing moment was on our fourth show, when Bishop Pates spontaneously asked me to explain my doctoral dissertation to listeners. I was thrilled as I had defended only a few weeks before. As I began to describe the dissertation thesis, the Bishop began to make frantic hand gestures toward me. Later I would discover that he was attempting to tell me I was speaking too loudly. Because his animated gestures continued throughout my whole explanation, anyone listening would have wondered how I got a PhD.

One of my favorite shows was a 2012 interview we did with a friend of mine, Dr. Damon Cudihy, Ob/Gyn. His personal story is a stark witness to the real costs associated with accepting and carrying out his call to holiness as a Catholic layman striving for moral and professional excellence. He’s a personal hero of mine. And he’s got an amazing family.

I include here the first 15-minute segment of the show. Pray for him and his family. Here’s his private practice in Louisiana. Listen here:

7305 Days of Grace

Over the years, I have made it a practice to write journal reflections on marriage around the date of our anniversary. Insights I’d gained during that year. It’s a great gift to look back to see how my thinking has evolved. The priest who prepared us for marriage told us, “Everything you need to know about a happy marriage is in the Nuptial Mass.” Because of that comment, I took up the habit of prayerfully reflecting on various texts and symbols from that Mass. Today I will share with you a selection of my reflections written over the last several weeks as I prepared to celebrate our anniversary.


20 years — 7305 days — ago, at around 10:45 a.m., Patricia and I joined hands.

I said, “I promise.”

She said, “I promise.”

In the play, A Man for All Seasons, St. Thomas More says: “When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.”

How can I justly extol the gift of a nuptial promise? It is freedom’s noblest act, the oblation of liberty for love.

It safeguards every good in our marriage. Without it, all would crumble. It is a key that unlocks our trust; a safe-space for the exchanging of unprotected hearts; a bond that builds an impregnable fortress; a playground for our children; a sanctuary for our joy; an altar on which we offer our one-flesh sacrifice; a confessional in which we reconcile without fear; a cultivated garden for every imaginable virtue; a cornerstone for civilization.

“I promise to be true to you.”

True. No lies. Honesty. Fidelity. Integrity. Consistency.

Only you. You first. All else comes after you. All loves find their place in service to our love. You are my first way of loving God above all things, and by it I will be judged. I love God best through you and with you. You are the perfection of my vocation to my love neighbor as myself, caritas in extremis. “He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph. 5:28).

I am loved by God best through you. I can no longer see His Face apart from yours. “He who does not love his [wife] whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

You afford me the chance to be forgiven 70 times 7 times, and to forgive, because you’re always there. You know me terrifyingly well, I can’t run away. I know you. Through you, Christ’s power enters my weakness and his grace super-abounds.

You and I, my bride, are co-celebrants of a timeless covenant, a real-time Sacrament, a reconciling liturgy, and a grace-giving icon of the earthy, daily, untidy, holy love of God.

“…in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

I say “yes” to all of you — all that you were, are or will become. My promise of love embraces joy and sorrow, rejection and acceptance, failure and triumph, riches and poverty. I will choose to love you again on every waking, and kiss you before falling off to sleep. I will ask of God, who has loved you from all eternity, to place in me His love for you.

I promise to show you honor, in small ways and great, to uphold your dignity and to defend your honor. I will never speak ill of you to others or betray our sacred trust.

I willed these things then. I will them now. I will them to the end. So help me God.

“What God has joined man must not divide.”

Our love, our bond, our unity, our capacity to create life is no possession. Tout est grâce, “All is grace,” and all that is freely received is to be freely given. We are poor stewards, keepers of an unbreakable covenant not of our making that God has so generously entrusted to our safe-keeping for the life of the world. We are an overflowing chalice that holds His Blood-shed, we are a paten on which His Body-broken rests. We are earthen vessels of His promise. In confessing ourselves to be a Sacrament, we renounce all claim to authorship, to power over who we have become, and ask God to write our love story as He wills.

Our prayer, my love, is always to be a grateful act of humbly receiving anew from God each day who we are, seeking His mercy for our failure to be who we are, begging all the while for the grace to become what we have received. May we, O God, become a credible sign to our children and the world that you are faithful, loving, merciful, longsuffering and the lover of mankind.

Every day unfolds God’s laboring to join us, to weave our lives together in unimaginably intricate ways. Through suffering, joy, worshipping, parenting, pleasure, working, dancing, crying, arguing, singing, failing, moving, drinking, trusting, praying, laughing, whispering, repenting, reconciling, walking, yelling, eating, sleeping. Then one day, dying. “Consciousness of self at new and previously unexperienced levels is now discovered and understood by each primarily through the mediation of the other. Their personhood, in all its potentialities, is being realized day by day in their nuptial consubstantiality and oneness with God” (Paul Evdokimov).

My grandfather wrote a long letter to my wife and me before our wedding day, and these words remain for me the most powerful:

From now on, it is up to you, Tom, and you, Patti, to love together, to laugh together, to cry together, to respond together, to be joined together. When one is cut, the other bleeds; when one wants, the other gives. There are no rules;  there are no formulas; there are no singular pronouns. There is no “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine.” Only “us,” “ours.”  I don’t know where Nana begins and I end, or where I begin and she ends…And for over 69 years of oneness, each year has been an exponential factor, a geometric multiplier, that carries our fidelity way beyond the puny magnitude of E=mc2. Long ago we have outscored the dimension of such a feeble concept as infinity.

Someone said to me the other day: “Wow, twenty years. Congrats! How would you sum it all up?”

I said, “Trying to do what I promised.”

Keep us forever faithful, O Lord, for without your grace we fall away into nothingness. Amen.

+ + + + + + +


Poem on our refrigerator

From the Crowning Service of the Eastern Rite of Matrimony:

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Holy Celebrant of mystical and pure marriage, Maker of the laws that govern earthly bodies, Guardian of incorruption, Kindly protector of the means of life: do You Yourself now, O Master, Who in the beginning created man, and appointed him as the king of creation, and said, “It is not good for man to be alone upon the earth; let us make a helpmate for him‑” then, taking one of his ribs, made woman, whom when Adam saw, he said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, for she was taken out of her man.

For this cause shall a man forsake his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife, and two shall be one flesh‑” and “whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” And now, O Master, Lord our God, send down Your heavenly Grace upon these Your servants, Thomas and Patricia, and grant unto this woman to be in all things subject unto the man, and to this Your servant to be at the head of the woman that they live according to Your Will.

(+) Bless them. O Lord our God, as you blessed Abraham and Sara. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Isaac and Rebecca. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as you blessed Jacob and all the Prophets. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Joseph and Asenath. (+) Bless them O Lord our God, as You blessed Moses and Zipporah Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Joakim and Anna. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Zacharias and Elizabeth. Preserve them, O Lord our God, as You preserved Noah in the Ark.

Preserve them, O Lord our God, as You preserved Jonah in the jaw of the sea beast. Preserve them, O Lord our God, as You preserved the holy Three Children from the fire, when You sent down upon them the dew of the Heavens. And may that joy come upon them which the blessed Helen had when she found the Precious Cross. Remember them, O Lord our God, as You remembered Enoch, Shem, and Elias.

Remember them, O Lord our God, as You remembered Your holy Forty Martyrs, sending down upon them the crowns from the Heavens. Remember them, O Lord our God, and the parents who have reared them, for the prayers of parents confirm the foundation of houses. Remember, O Lord our God, the wedding company that here have come together, to be present at this rejoicing.

Remember, O Lord our God, Your servant Thomas and Your servant Patricia, and bless them. Give to them concord of soul and body. Exalt them as the cedars of Lebanon, and as well‑cultured vine; bestow on them a rich store of sustenance, so that having a sufficiency of all things for themselves, they may abound in every good work that is good and acceptable before You. Let them behold their children’s children as newly planted olive trees round about their table; and, being accepted before You, let them shine as stars in the Heavens, in You, our Lord, to Whom are due all Glory, honor, and worship as to Your eternal Father, and Your All‑Holy, Good, and Life‑creating Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.


Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on. — St. John Paul II

Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

I just wanted to reiterate the point I made when I resumed posting, that my work load this Fall is making blog writing quite difficult. Though there is some flex in my time to write these days, competing demands are leaving my creative capacity near-empty. Sicut Deus vult illud esse. I will post as frequently as I am able.

If nothing else, I will most certainly post on October 14.

Thank you for making this blog part of your reading.

“Madonna of the Rosary,”, Lorenzo Lotto (1539),


Today is St. Jerome’s feast. He’s the patron of Scripture scholars. Brilliant linguist, interpreter of Holy Writ and a cantankerous man whose sainthood should give clear evidence that holiness can be compatible with an acerbic temperament. The same Jerome who famously said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” also remarked about one of his critics, “…so you say that Dormitianus has again opened his stinking mouth and emitted some foul putrescence against relics of the martyrs?”

There’s humorous story told of Pope Sixtus V that, while looking at a picture of St. Jerome beating his chest with a stone, said, as if addressing the saint in person, “you do well to hold that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you.”

Also, here’s my favorite 7 minute recap of Pope Francis’ astonishing pastoral visit to the U.S. Though we live in a secularized culture largely innoculated against intrusions of the transcendent, the papacy retains its power to lead us beyond the threshold of hope to where the FarNear awaits us. Watch here:

I will be resuming posting tomorrow, but at least for a while it may be somewhat sporadic as work has not really let up. But I feel compelled to resume (hopefully because of 2 Cor. 5:14). Deo gratias.

I am grateful to return, and grateful to those who return with me.

[I am also aware there’s something odd about announcing a return to posting with a post]

Catch my breath


I have to grudgingly concede I can’t maintain my blog these days. The irreducible multiplicity of work and home commitments have erased the time available for pleasure writing (which is what I consider my blog). My plan is to start up again consistently posting on October 1.

Thank you for making this blog a part of your life. It’s life-giving for me in ways I could never adequately describe.

Let me leave you with some art to chew on until then: drawing, singing, poetry, a hymn and a photo.

First, I’ll share with you two artistic pieces: one by my daughter, Maria, and the other by local Gospel and blues singer, Cornelius “CC” Celestine, who sings in my wife’s parish choir.

Maria’s piece is a 27 second sped-up video she made that chronicles her drawing to the beat of a cool tune:

CC’s piece is an audio recording of his gorgeous a cappella rendition of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, an African slave song that gives voice to the devastating experience of families being torn apart by the violence of slave trade. See the lyrics below the audio clip. He sang it one Sunday at Mass after Communion. I’d never heard it before, but it was for me like a meditation on the painful cry of prayer found in Psalm 88:14-15:

As for me, Lord, I call to you for help;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face?


Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long way from home
A long way from home

Sometimes I feel like I’m almost done
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost done
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost done
A long way from home
A long way from home

True believers a long way from home

A long way from home
A long way from home

To honor Our Lady for her September 8 feast, I wrote a poem back in 2010. I titled it by the Aramaic word for mother: Imma. To love this Lady is to discover her Son in a way you simply could not apart from her.

O Imma

I rejoice this festival of your birth
O Ark fashioned in secret earth,
conceived all-awash in mercy tide
gushing from His open side:
God’s hoping future crashing in
to stay the hand of Adam’s sin.
For of your womb, O Chalice pure,
is born for earth a heavenly Cure
who enfolds all in deathless-Life
harrowing hell and quenching strife.
Pray for us now, and as death preys,
to the timeless One, that Ancient of days
whom you knew as so young, so near,
kissing His face, sweeping His tear.
O look up now to Him who stoops low
that He might grace us with weal, not woe;
with treasures of grace and garments of light
putting our deadly, darkened Foe to flight.
O Bearer of the Infinitely Above,
O Whisperer to the God of love;
O Mother who alone dares to say:
“O God, this is how you are to pray.”
To you we raise a hymn of joy,
O Woman made without alloy,
celebrating your Nativity feast
gives great glory to God the Least. Amen.

+ + + +

This is a sung rendition (and lyrics) of an exquisite Byzantine hymn called, O Virgin Pure. It honors the mysteries surrounding Mary’s divine maternity:

O virgin pure, immaculate: O lady Theotokos
O rejoice, bride unwedded
O fleece bedewed with every grace, O virgin, queen and mother
O rejoice, bride unwedded
More radiant than the rays of sun and higher than the heavens
O rejoice, bride unwedded
O joy of virgin choruses superior to angels
O rejoice, bride unwedded
More bright than the firmament and purer than the sun’s light
O rejoice, bride unwedded
More holy than the multitude of all the heav’nly armies
O rejoice, bride unwedded

O ever-virgin Mary, of all the world, the Lady
O rejoice, bride unwedded
O bride all-pure, immaculate: O lady Panagia
O rejoice, bride unwedded
O Mary bride and queen of all, the cause of our rejoicing
O rejoice, bride unwedded
O humble maiden, gracious queen, supremely holy Mother
O rejoice, bride unwedded
More honored than the Cherubim, beyond compare more glorious
O rejoice, bride unwedded
Beyond bodiless Seraphim, transcending the angelic thrones
O rejoice, bride unwedded

Rejoice, the song of Cherubim; Rejoice, the hymn of angels
O rejoice, bride unwedded
Rejoice, the ode of Seraphim; the joy of the archangels
O rejoice, bride unwedded
Rejoice, O peace and happiness and haven of salvation
O rejoice, bride unwedded
O sacred chamber of the Word; the bud of incorruption
O rejoice, bride unwedded
Rejoice delightful Paradise of blessed life eternal
O rejoice, bride unwedded
Rejoice, O sacred tree of life and font of immortality
O rejoice, bride unwedded

I supplicate you, Lady now, I fervently entreat you
O rejoice, bride unwedded
O queen of all I earnestly implore and seek your favor
O rejoice, bride unwedded
O gracious maiden spotless one, O lady Panagia
O rejoice, bride unwedded
I call upon you ardently: O holy, hallowed temple
O rejoice, bride unwedded
Assist me and deliver me protect me from the enemy
O rejoice, bride unwedded
And make me an inheritor of blessed life eternal
O rejoice, bride unwedded

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A Sunset

Photo of sunset by the levee taken by Maria

Please pray for me and my family.

I wrote a chapter in a book


I was very grateful and humbled when Liguori Publications asked me last Fall to contribute an introductory “theology of the family” chapter in a book on family life. The book to be published soon is wonderfully entitled, The Family, the Church and the Real World, and includes well-known contributing authors like Dr. Sean Reynolds, Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, Lisa Hendey, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, Don Paglia, Christopher West, Fr. Andrew Wisdom, and Greg and Jennifer Willits. I can’t wait to get a copy myself to feast on its riches!

When they first asked me, I confessed to them that I’m not a theological specialist in that area. But when they told me they were not looking for a specialized theological treatise, but rather an accessible Catholic theological meditation on the nature of family written in a familiar style by someone who is theologically literate, I felt more at home. Though I am a theologian, I’m not a scholar’s scholar. Rather, I consider myself more a public intellectual whose primary vocation and mission is to reveal intelligently and faithfully the Word made fresh. That’s my guiding ideal, at least.

To help me keep the tone of my chapter a bit more intimate, I decided to write it as a personal letter addressed to dear friends of mine who were married this last June (whom I mentioned in an earlier post): Mr. & Mrs. Jordan and Shannon Haddad. Just thinking of them makes my heart leap for joy — watch here and see why:

My chapter offers a brief look of the Church’s theological vision for family life.  It draws from Scripture and Tradition, and was influenced by my own experience of being married to Patti Ann Neal, and of being the father of Michael Anthony (19), Nicholas Patrick (17), Maria Thérèse (15) and Catherine Elizabeth (13), as well as of our six miscarried babies. As I wrote, in my mind’s eye also were countless witnesses to marriage and family life from my own family, my wife’s family, and among our friends and many acquaintances over the years, as well the bishops, priests, deacons and religious we have been privileged to know. These have convicted, rebuked, exhorted and encouraged us to live out a faithful marriage and family life, and to not despair in the face of weakness and failure. In that last category, I’d like single out the Brotherhood of Hope, whose love and devotion to marriage and family life has had an unparalleled influence in our lives. These extraordinary Brothers embody the complementarity of vocations in an exemplary way.

Okay! As I don’t want this to be longer than the chapter itself, let me end by sharing with you here a few of the energetic opening lines and then some of the more sober closing lines from this chapter:

Dear Jordan and Shannon,

What a privilege it will be for the Neal family to be part of your upcoming wedding day! I thought, as a gift to honor your marriage, I would offer you some of my own theological and personal reflections on the Church’s magnificent teaching on marriage and family life.

I remember vividly our wedding day back in 1995, on October 14th. It was also the feast of Pope St. Callistus I, who was martyred in 222 A.D. during a time of fierce hostility toward Christians in the Roman Empire. To be openly Christian in those days was a risky choice to make! But imagine – without those many men and women who did take the risk and choose to publicly proclaim the Gospel, where would we be? We need more daring witnesses! In fact, I’d say the Church is always in need of new martyrs, and your choice to give yourselves to each other in holy wedlock – freely, exclusively, totally, faithfully, irrevocably and fruitfully – is itself an heroic act in this day and age! Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church, will consecrate your free act of self-gift by joining it to His own martyrdom as a Sacrament, i.e. a living and effective sign to the world of His saving death and glorious resurrection! The two of you, with hands joined, will become fountains of Christ lavishing graces, everything you will need to remain faithful to your exalted vocation.

Educating your children is a tall order! But the beauty is that we never have to do it alone. We are part of a Church that is a Family of families, a living Body of Christ in which all are concerned for the well-being of all. At least that’s our mission. Rely on the support of others, and pass on to those less fortunate than you the good things you have received. We are made in weakness that we might supply for one another. Be sure to consult often with your wiser elders, and teach your children to do the same. Remember your Baptismal anniversaries and use plenty of holy water to keep grace fresh. Frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation – together, and one day as a family – and stay close to the Holy Eucharist, which is the source and summit of your lives. See yourselves as architects of wonder who encourage the love of learning, and strive to build a home transparent, like a sacrament, to the presence of God. Read the Scriptures daily, pray together as often as possible and often intercede before God for your children, offering up for them many secret sacrifices. Give alms to the poor and teach your children to do the same. Keep close to the Mother of God and your patron saints, and talk often about saints on earth and in heaven. Practice hospitality, cultivate domestic stability, nurture a strong work ethic by giving out chores, practice frugality and generosity as stewards of God’s manifold gifts. Practice discipline of the tongue, bless your adversaries, speak well of others and criticize only when required by justice or charity…