Mashley @ Rock n’ Bowl!

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This is not a theological post, but a paternal post promoting Ashley and (my daughter) Maria’s upcoming “opening act” appearance on Saturday, February 24 @ ~8:30 PM at Rock n’ Bowl on S. Carrollton Ave. in New Orleans, as they open for the local band, Bag of Donuts.

So incredibly gracious of Bag of Donuts (esp. Jerry Christopher) to invite Ashley and Maria to do this!

So if you want to come and see Ashley and Maria live, and then get to enjoy Bag of Donuts, come and see!

Promotional: Theology on Tap in NOLA

I wanted to invite New Orleans area residents to attend a Theology On Tap event in Covington, LA that my Seminary colleague, Mrs. Caroline Butterworth, MATS, will be leading on my favorite topic, “Christ in the Secular Vocation.” I am assuming it is ‘on’ as the weather has moderated, but Facebook link here.

Of Muslims and Sacraments

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom. — Vatican II

Today, I am without time to write anything substantial. But I felt compelled to share this terribly tragic and deeply beautiful story of a Syrian couple living in a refugee camp that I came across as I was preparing a lecture for my marriage class.

I sent it to a couple I know who have been to hell and back in their marriage and family life, and who are also deeply faith-filled people. The wife just wrote this back to me and I thought I had to share.

Goodness! What a beautiful witness of how Muslim faith can lead to holiness. How humbling. Challenges us who profess our marriage is all about the crucified love of God to find more love in tragedy than not, right? May God help us to be at least as faithful to our Sacrament, knowing Jesus, as they are to their marriage without knowing Jesus.


Always have the long view

Pacino di Buonaguida, “Cross as the Tree of Life” c. 1320

[re-post 2012]

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. — 2 Cor. 5:1

In the summer of 1991, I got the chance over 2 months to sit and speak with a priest who had at the time been over sixty-five years ordained. I asked him for words of wisdom from his long life throughout the summer and kept a journal of the gold he gave me. Among his many stories, he interspersed these proverb-like insights. I will share some here.

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Always have the long view. God works with the long view in mind. These days, people find that very hard, which makes real faith incomprehensible. Just look at Scripture and you’ll pick up the long view perspective. The prophets taught hope for what we have received, Jesus, but died without ever seeing it. Just think, without their aching hope for what they would not possess in this life the Gift would never have come. The most important fruits of my work won’t come into existence until long, long after I’m gone.

Only when I give back what I have been given by God can others finally receive all of it. And only when I die will I finally surrender everything back to the Giver. At least, that’s how I should die. I hope I am able to. It’s why the holy Fathers always counseled, memento mori [remember death]. All of life is to be a rehearsal for death.

I found the harder things became in my life, the better it was for me to gain the long view. Our culture makes this hard, which is why we fear suffering so much. None of what I have is for me, none of it is meant to remain here, all of it is for the final Homeland. Hardship wrests things out of our hands. Breaks our will to control, grasp, possess things without giving full freedom to God’s plan for what we’ve been entrusted with; what He wants to do with what we have. Most of that, keep in mind, we are not even aware of in the slightest.

It all seems easy and natural when things are well. Since my late teens, I’ve always professed trust in God, hope in God, love for God, love for others. Yes, with great sincerity. But not until life got hard, till the wheat was submitted to the grinding wheel, did I have a real chance to really choose love, trust, hope. The chance to give them back, to have exposed in me my well-disguised refusal to hand them over to God’s providence.

If I look back at my own priesthood, I’d encourage you in your marriage and family life to see the first 20 years as learning what needs to be surrendered, the next 20 as practicing surrender, and the last 20 as surrendering. If God takes you earlier, He knows you had the long view in mind and accepts the portion you gave as the whole offering.

You know, they say in Russia that “old age is for prayer.” That is wise. When life is so busy in your early years, your exhausting labor is meant to prepare material for the great sacrifice that, later in life, God willing, you will have time to offer gently back to God in quiet prayer for your family and loved ones and the world. Tragic we have lost this sense and see old age as a wasting away, as a sad, pitiful march to death; when it should be our titan moment of spiritual power.

So remember, when you fret, that there’s a time to labor strenuously for preparing the gifts to be offered, and there’s a time to offer. And if you die before the age of prayer comes, God knows you had the long view in mind and accepts the portion you gave as the whole offering.

There are so many people in the years of my ministry that I fumbled over, ignored, drove away, injured, misinformed, frightened off. There was a time when I lived in regret and self-pity. But thank God, when I was much younger than now, [an elderly priest] once said to me, as I wrung my hands over my missteps, “You do no good to anyone this way, refusing to give to God the most precious treasures of all: failure. Give God these for those you have failed.” I thought he was senile as those words seemed foolish, but I never forgot them. Now I see they are the height of wisdom.

Weaknesses given over to Christ by repentance, by surrender, as offering. That’s real power. It’s why the cross is the instrument of salvation. The whole purpose of life is surrender. The finest surrender is not giving God our soaring cathedrals, good as they are, but giving Him our rubble so He can build. Out of rubble, God builds cathedrals. And sometimes He permits the demolition of our life’s carefully constructed cathedrals so He can finally convince us He doesn’t want us to build great things for Him, but to give Him everything, so He, the Builder, can finally build.

From the Darkness into the Light

A woman named “Amy” commented here last week and asked this of me: “When time allows, please give your thoughts on adult children who struggle with addiction.”

I immediately thought of a remarkable woman I have come to know here in New Orleans, Mary Lou McCall, who agreed to share with me her hard-won wisdom on this topic. So, Amy, this is for you and for all who endure similar crosses among family and friends. Thank you, Mary Lou.

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There is no challenge that will stretch a parent’s capacity to love with the merciful heart of Christ more than when their child is suffering from the brain disease of addiction. This is one darkness that will also push a parent to climb up on the cross with Jesus and cling in desperation to his battered and bloody body. The agony of the crucifixion and the pain wrought by active addiction are parallel journeys intimately embedded in the mystery of the Cross where victory over sin has been claimed for eternity. Meditating upon the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, fully absorbing his sacrificial love, is essential for parents whose children have been seduced by this very cunning, baffling and powerful force.

“Nothing is more beneficial…No remedy could be as effective for the healing of our wounded souls as the continuous contemplation on the suffering of Christ.” — St. Augustine

Addiction amplifies our disordered nature brought on by original sin. The horrific harnessing of the human mind through pornography or gambling, or through the abuse of drugs like alcohol and opiates, rewires the person’s brain producing the uncontrollable urge to continue doing the behaviors that are destroying them and using the drugs that are killing them. Addiction simultaneously suffocates the light in the soul and leads to the sinister oppression of free will. It is as though a force has taken over their battered yet breathing corpse. What happened to the child that nursed at your breast, who squealed with delight at Christmas, who brought you such incandescent joy just because they existed? They are still there and because they are still among the living, we must never give up hope!

Addiction is a progressive, insidious attack against the sanctity of human life; it distorts the sacred intent of family life; and it eventually spoils the community through the resulting increase in crime. The consequences of addiction and the shame produced by this dark human bondage seeps into every level of society, cutting across all socio-economic and religious divides. No one is immune. I experienced this powerful plague as it hemorrhaged the lives of two of my five sons. One of them confessed to me years later that he had been so tired and depressed that he was one click away from shooting himself with a gun. I firmly believe that God and the Blessed Mother heard the anguished cry of my son’s soul and intervened on his behalf.

The soul-binding fear and despair that I felt during those dark days, pummeled me into complete submission to the Lord’s will because none of the medical solutions were helping. I prayed for the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit as I fell to my knees before the tabernacle of the Lord and begged for God’s mercy on my children and for the strength to carry me through each day. Jesus did not let me down.

He gently lifted me up and carried me deep into his Sacred Heart where His pulsating love pumped new life into every fragment of my fragile nature. I grew progressively hopeful as He inspired me to seize with complete abandon the graces of my baptism and my children’s baptism. He urged me to humbly enter daily into that sacred space, Holy Mass, where the paschal mystery is celebrated in the eternal now. The Word made flesh, the flesh transforming life and the circular love that has no beginning and no end propelled me along a spiritual trajectory that changed my life and lifted the darkness that had shrouded my family. Before I knew it, the sanctifying graces that were transforming me, spilled over to my sons and saturated their wounds with His healing love. Ever so slowly they grew stronger as they literally willed themselves into recovery and the long progressive process of restoration and renewal.

We are intimately connected to our children as we are to our God, and the synchronicity of our DNA and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is more powerful than we can humanly understand. So, hang on tight to your faith and believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who delivered on his promise to redeem mankind, and the same God who designed for us the most powerful toolbox in the world, the Sacraments of our Catholic faith.

Pick up those tools so that you can look with compassion and love into the eyes of your children, deep into their soul where Jesus resides. Love them with the same everlasting love that Jesus gives to all of us each and every day; hold them tightly as He is holding us, and always remember that victory has already been won!

“We believe that in the darkest night, it is possible to find light again.”
Mother Elvira Petrozzi, Comunita Cenacolo

When The Saints Go Marching In

St. Clement of Rome Oyster Festival, last night — 11/12/17

A simple post today.

Our parish’s annual Oyster Festival, which raises money for St. Clement of Rome grade school, finished last night. It is a Neal Family annual highlight, and my wife and I go every night to listen to the music and dance.

Every six to eight months we celebrate the Lord’s Day in our home with family and friends, including games, food, fellowship, music (everything from Nowhere Man to Let the Fire Fall, and with Ashley and Maria live performances) and catechesis, with Sunday Mass celebrated on our dining room table. It’s a profound experience of joy, awe, and friendship that helps forge our home into a domestic church. Fr. Brad Doyle graciously offered his precious time to be with us, leading us in praise and worship (man he can sing and pray!), celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and sharing his vocation story. We feel blessed to be associated with so many extraordinary people of faith in New Orleans.

Late last night, I texted a poem about the day to my daughters’ friends (who were there) that I will share here. Also, I will share a video I recorded last night of the fabulous band, Bag of Donuts, closing the weekend with a song by a son of NOLA, Louis Armstrong, that is (obviously) beloved by New Orleaneans.

And I caught my wife in front me dancing… (shh)

Yep, I want to be in that number!

Bananagrams, friends, musical prayer /
newcomers, latecomers, pull up a chair /
cuz God’s out the window; we opened it up /
and He came in to join us, a mystical Sup. /
#ourdiningroomtable, an Altar today /
there loved by a God who’s chosen to stay; /
a God who feeds us, outpouring His grace: /
our expanded family, His dwelling place.