“He’s whole.” The story of Ernie Johnson

Everything I try to express in this Blog is in one way or another narrated in this extraordinary 23 minute ESPN story.



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 labourers 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

Saved by a Stick

Some people are called to be a good sailor. Some people have a calling to be a good tiller of the land. Some people are called to be a good friend. You have to be the best at whatever you are called at. Whatever you do. It’s about confidence, not arrogance. — Bob Dillon

My grandfather wrote me in a letter, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. It’s not what you make, it’s who you become in the making. It’s not about getting recognized for what you’ve done, it’s recognizing what you’ve done you did for the right reason. And the right reason is always the Almighty and your fellow man. The rest is incidental.”

“Being best at it” is to strive to do each thing you do with full intention, as if each action were the first, last and only thing you will ever do. Living as if now was all your legacy would be in time, all your name would signify in eternity. To treat each encounter as defining, each next as a new beginning, as the whole present in the part. For God does not treat any moment as insignificant, since He is wholly present to each moment, loving with equally infinite intensity.

Back when my daughter Catherine was 4 years old, I came home from work one day feeling defeated and tired, and not prepared to patiently interact with my children. I wanted to stare at a blank wall that did not talk back, and sip a Blue Moon.

As I got out of my car and started toward the front door, I noticed Catherine was playing over by the tree line. When she caught sight of me, she ran excitedly toward me with a stick in hand and shouted, “Daddy look! A stick! A stick!” I mumbled something and hoped she’d go back to her solitary play. But she persisted, “No! No! Look at the stick!” As I looked, she pointed to little red mites running in and out of the cracks in the stick. She pulled me with her to the ground, and we blanked the whole world out to examine this microcosm together.

In a matter of seconds my whole disposition changed, the present presided over both past and future, and my regrets and worries were forgotten amid the lilies of her field.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them. — Isaiah 11:6

In that moment, Catherine’s love seized me, and I was prepared to worthily receive the sacrament of the present moment. It is in such moments that the Kingdom Come, comes. More than anyone in the world, my children have taught me how to discover my vocation in the moment. “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).


Will it.


“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Will it.” — St. Thomas Aquinas‘ response to his sister’s question, “How does one become a saint?”

There are two heresies that Christians tend to succumb to: salvation is my work (Pelagianism), salvation is God’s work (Quietism). Orthodoxy is found in the mystery between these two extremes, as salvation is a theandric synergy, the co-working of man with God, grace and free will, fully God and fully man. In other words, salvation is Jesus, who is the redeemer and perfecter of the both/and.

Asceticism, which is a life of self-mastery ordered toward the cultivation of theological (faith-hope-love) and moral virtue (prudence-justice-temperance-fortitude), infuses each new day with a fresh resolve to be holy and a fresh plea to God, “Make me want to be holy!” The ascetic’s goal is to have the soul of the psalmist:

O God, you are my God; at dawn I seek you;
for you my soul is thirsting.
For you my flesh is pining,
like a dry, weary land without water (63:1-2).

Holiness is the demolition of every attempt to domesticate God, to make Him our lackey, or to quarantine Him in a safe zone so He can’t enter those spaces where we are vulnerable. In Scripture, the holiness of God is synonymous with dangerous. To approach God is supremely risky, as no one escapes from an encounter with Him alive. We must die to Old Man Adam to enter into His presence. Per crucem ad Patrem.

Let me tell you, if you do this every morning to launch your day, and really mean it, you will be amazed what happens. What happens? God’s mostly imperceptible, occasionally reprehensible revolution. G.K. Chesterton, writing of St. Francis’ stripping naked in the public square, said that “the transition from the good man to the saint is a sort of revolution.” A turning away from comfort, satiety and mediocrity, and a turning toward “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6).

So, a good New Year’s resolution? Will it. Plead to want it. And then go and set the world on fire…

Theologians against logorrhea

St. John resting on the Heart of Jesus. pinimg.com

St. John the Evangelist’s Feast today introduces the reading of his magnificent Letters into the Christmas season liturgies. Today begins with the beginning of his first Letter,

What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life —
for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us—
what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.

Such depth. Such a profound outworking of the Prologue of his Gospel. I can never read this too many times, and I get pumped every year when these Letters appear this season.

But what really struck me this morning as I prayed this text was the last line,We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.” What a fascinating reason to write. That set me thinking about the writing vocation of theologians, whose calling is to explore the deposit of faith and communicate its riches to others. I thought, for those of us who dare to opine on the Mystery of Faith, St. John’s words offer three core goals that should animate all of our speech.

First, the pursuit of a living intimacy with the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. A theologian is one who knows, really knows the eternal Word. Who dares to speak of Him only after speaking with Him. Read again those opening words of this Letter. They claim the authority of first-hand experience of the Mystery of God, Jesus Christ.

Second, cultivation of the unity of love that is an outflow of, and inflow into God’s own Tri-unity. A theologian always seeks and serves unity, and where there is disunity, seeks reconciliation.

Third, the amplification and communication of joy. A theologian identifies, cultivates and removes obstacles to joy. In the words of Pope Benedict, their vocation “is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world.”

Let me expand this out and say that any of the faithful who boldly dare to speak or write about the Mystery of Faith should exercise a holy fear, realizing God is not our personal possession, nor is His revelation an ideology. Rather, the living God has entrusted Himself and His deepest secrets to us for the purpose of drawing all creation into divine intimacy, fostering the unity of love and permitting His joy to enter the world.

If my intention in speaking of any aspect of the faith is divorced from any of these three things, I betray God’s own intention. Personally, nothing in life terrifies me more than the thought of exploiting for my own ends God’s own life and revealed mystery. As my dad often said, “I’d rather be an atheist than risk that.”

So I ask myself before (and after) I begin to type, write or speak of these Mysteries in a manner that will influence others (especially on social media): Does this flow from prayer and lead to prayer? Will this unify or reconcile? Will this bear the fruit of joy? If not, I should remain silent until I have become rightly disposed through repentance and prayer.

When we fail to act with holy fear, fail to carefully consider our words, rushing in where angels fear to tread, we can do great damage by marring the beauty of God’s Mystery entrusted to us. And we will have to answer one day before the Judgment Seat of Christ for the damage we inflict by our words.

I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter. — Matt. 12:36

My grandfather also used to say, “Be silent, or say something better than silence.” What’s better than silence? Well chosen words born of divine intimacy, leading into divine unity and divine joy.

With St. John the Divine, spread it around.

Mary the Poor

Conception of the Virgin Mary. Yes, that’s the elderly Sts. Joachim and Anne readying to re-enter the nuptial chamber… lauraclericiicons.webgallerydesign.com

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

Last night I gave a talk at a parish on Mary and Baptism. What a honor to have the opportunity to speak of the mysteries of God in her regard.

I was exhausted and ready to go to bed when the time for the talk came, as it had been a non-stop day. Though, to be honest, this is also the general sad state of my life in the “over 50 club,” I have found, as I am now ready for bed by 8:00 p.m.; just as my wife and kids are ready to party. Such a downer.

I mention this detail because it became part of the talk I gave — my exhaustion, that is. Oh, yes, and one other funny detail. My talk was right after Mass, and at the end of Mass I rushed to the cry room to use the restroom. Of course, there was a line. As I stood there waiting, I heard the pastor start introducing me from the ambo, only to then inform the congregation that I was delayed as I was relieving myself.


I spoke on the Sacrament of Baptism as an immersion into all of the mysteries that the Mother of God embodied in a singular way. Mary is not the great exception, I argued, but the great exemplar of all we are called to be in Christ.

In Baptism we are reborn as an immaculate new creation, washed clean and re-created to be God’s sons and daughters. I tried to hammer home the point that we are “born of God” in, as it were, God’s broken bag of water and blood (John 1:13; 3:3; 1 John 5:6). Our very being is changed as we are adopted into most secret intimacy of God’s inner life. Mary also was conceived as a new creation, reborn in the very act of coming to be.

In Baptism we are made temples of the Trinity, a living Holy of Holies, the abode of God and divine Glory’s point of entry into the world. At the Annunciation, Mary also became a Temple of the Most High God.

In Baptism we are joined to Christ’s Body, made “one flesh” and “one spirit” with Him (1 Cor. 6:17), allowing us, by grace, to share in all He is by nature. At the Annunciation, we might say that Mary cried out, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this One shall be called Man, for out of Woman this One was taken” (cf. Gen 2:23).  At the foot of the Cross, she became “one flesh” with Him as He, the New Adam, called Mary “Woman,” the New Eve and mother of all the living in the new creation (John 19:26-27).

In Baptism we are plunged into Christ’s death and resurrection, dying to sin, living for God and being initiated into a divine pattern of self-sacrificial love. At her conception, at the foot of the Cross, and everywhere between, Mary died and rose with her Son. Yes, redeemed by her Son’s death before she existed. Here, we gawk in awe. O Time, swept up into the eternity of God, you are redeemed! Sing for joy!

Something like that. And I used a number of stories to illustrate my points.

Okay, so I gave this talk, but I can tell you it was not as clear as all that. In fact, I really don’t remember much of what I said. As I got into my car, I said a prayer of thanks and offered to God the frustration I felt over my exhaustion and the effect it had on my talk. I sat for a few moments in silence, and suddenly had a powerful phrase come to mind: “My greatest attribute is my poverty.”

I thought, whose poverty? God’s? Mary’s? And then I realized, it’s both. In her womb, Mary knew as no one else the poverty of a self-emptying God precisely because she was already poor. Empty of herself, i.e. sinless. Mary magnified the Lord because she, the lowly handmaiden, was created in the image of the God-Man who, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (1 Cor. 8:9).

It was as if God were saying to me, “Tom, only when you accept your absolute poverty, and join it to mine, can you magnify me, for my power is only made perfect in your weakness.” And then I wrote, “Yes, poverty is God’s supreme attribute because it is the nature of love to keep nothing for itself.”

Well, God, if weakness is what magnifies, my magnifying glass is immense. So please, Lord, feel free…

Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat-sheaf, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the rose tree, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the temple, Christ the temple’s Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the mother, Christ the mother’s Son
Both ever-blest while endless ages run. Amen.

Gentle John

[Again, the end of semester work is enormous. I may not be able to post again until it ends next week. Thank you for all who comment here, I read them all gratefully]

The last month or so has been astonishing in the number of people who have confided to me their pains, struggles, fears. I cannot help but repeat again Henry David Thoreau’s oft quoted, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

A priest I know in Lafayette said to me recently, scratch beneath the surface of someone’s soul by listening compassionately for a stretch of time, and you’ll uncover pain.


Amid all of these encounters, I had a remarkable experience that gave me a new perspective that is difficult to articulate. I will try.

In late October, I was preparing for a talk I gave in Baton Rouge for a pro-life fundraiser in November. I had been struggling for a few days over how to end the talk. One day, as I sat for a while in my car in silence thinking on this, Bl. John Henry Newman’s poetic prayer, Lead Kindly Light, came to mind. It fit perfectly with my theme. Lead was a prayer he wrote at a very dark point in his life when he felt lost and very much alone. As soon as I got home, I typed it into the end of my talk.

When the day came for me to head to Baton Rouge, I ended work early so I could spend a few hours entering into and inhabiting the world of my talk. I went to the levee by Lake Ponchartrain and read and re-read my talk while listening to the rhythmic waves. As I got to the prayer, I started to sing it aloud with a tune Colleen Nixon taught me. For whatever reason, I found myself in that moment absolutely overcome by a stunning, almost assaulting awareness of the presence of Newman with me. Next to me. Now that is unusual for me.

But here was what was unique about this awareness. It was of Newman’s gentleness, tenderness that I was made aware. His kindliness. I don’t know how to say it well, honestly. I sensed an immense gentleness, a gentleness that accompanies greatness. That accompanies magnanimity. That flows from a man who has suffered greatly, but who has allowed the suffering to make him not hard and callous, but tender and compassionate — because he has loved much. In fact, I can say that I sensed, above all, the love born of suffering.

Interesting to note, this brief experience came just before the month-long procession of suffering humanity neared me, and gave me a certain strength, apprenticing me in his gentle art. Anew, afresh. Deo gratias.

What a beauty that each saint brings with him or her, an entirely unique facet of the Face of God. A grace so specific that it can only be found in that one man, one woman.

Saints of God, intercede for us, befriend us, and generously share with us your grace. Amen.

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

No humility, no holiness

St. John Vianney

Humility can only take root in the heart through humiliations. Without them, there is no humility or holiness. If you are unable to suffer and offer up a few humiliations, you are not humble and you are not on the path to holiness. — Pope Francis

One of my favorite saint stories is about St. John Vianney, Curé of Ars, the 18th century French parish priest and wonder-worker. Evidently, there was a petition to the Bishop that had been generated and signed by local clergy and laity, saying St. John was incompetent, lazy, ineffective, driving people away and unpopular — and so should be removed. It is reported that St. John found out about it and said, “Show me the petition.” After reading it, he signed his name to it, saying, “They’re right.” Then he grabbed his cloak and left the rectory for his daily rounds of visiting sick parishioners.

I mentioned to the seminarians in one of my classes last week that a good health-check on ego is to monitor one’s spontaneous response to criticism or being disliked. Humility is an inner capacity to receive truth with gratitude, precisely because your identity is not rooted in pretense or illusion, but in reality. As Mother Teresa said, “If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”

By “being rooted in reality,” I don’t simply mean embracing the brute facts of life. Above all, I mean sinking your tap root deep into the reality of God. Humility that is sunk in Christ sees reality as resting on a shore-less ocean of mercy, so no matter what the truth is of who I am, there is irrepressible joy. When Christ the Merciful is the rock for my anchor, the uncontrollable fluctuations of life are for me still waters of peace. All things become a cause for gratitude, for “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Many years ago, I was friends with a priest who had been accused of sexual misconduct and was removed from ministry. He was exonerated almost ten years after the initial accusation, after enduring a grueling legal process and trial, and was allowed to return to active ministry. He was my spiritual director and confessor for a little over a year, and was without question the most merciful and kind human being I have ever personally known. Confessing to him brought me more personal growth than any other time in my life.

Once, I asked him about his ordeal and if he felt resentful. His response floored me.

I have no resentment. I did not become a priest to achieve my personal goals or gain a reputation. I became a priest to serve Truth. Wherever He is, I want to be there. And if that means being with Him on trial or being tried by Him, that’s where I want to be. Right? Truth is what sets us free.