Monday, November 30, 2009


So much for the French Plus ca change...

In 1876, there was in the works a plan (seemingly backed by the ultra-conservative Cardinal Manning—himself a convert from the Church of England) to support the creation of
" Anglican ‘uniate’ church which would allow a married clergy, on the model of the Eastern rite churches in communion with Rome….The plan, which soon collapsed, involved accepting not only papal infallibility, but also conditional reordination; it appeared unlikely to commend itself to many Anglo-Catholics" (Ian Ker, John Henry Newman: A Biography, p. 695).

This is a fascinating view, historically speaking, in light of the developments in relationships between Anglicans/Episcopalians and Catholics in the last 30 years, from ARCIC [the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission], through the first “pastoral provision” of the early 1980s, to the current Apostolic Constitution. Ironically, the 2 issues that Newman thought would keep many (if any) Anglicans from embracing the idea seem not to be issues any more. The Episcopalians past and future who are married priests would in fact be (as Rev Bry Shields and Rev Leo Weisshar were) re-ordained absolutely and not conditionally. And the idea of papal authority (at least in terms of being a focal point of unity and authoritative teaching) seems to be one now eagerly sought out. So what is it that is really at issue between the Catholic Church and the Worldwide Anglican Communion?

In spite of some people’s fears that this is making things “too easy,” the direction of the Apostolic Constitution is in the direct line of the most recent popes, from John Paul II (quoted in Benedict’s greeting of Patriarch Bartholomew in a post above), and Paul VI, who said (in the context of the canonization of the English Catholic martyrs of the 16th-17th centuries): “…when the unity of faith and life is restored…there will be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and usage proper to the Anglican Church…[our] ever beloved sister.”

We are on the verge of something ecumenically traumatic and triumphant—we are on the verge of something which can forge an authentic unity or cause us to shatter ‘like a potter’s vessel’ (Ps. 2:9). Which will it be? On which side will we labor? On which side will we stand in prayer and hope?
FYI: in the picture, along with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict XVI, is Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Secretariat for Christian Unity.


In his greeting to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on this Feast of St. Andrew (patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and brother of Peter), Pope Benedict XVI offered the following thoughts on the exercise of the ministry of Peter in the Church:

[O]penness [to one another] has guided the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, which held its eleventh plenary session in Cyprus last month. The meeting was marked by a spirit of solemn purpose and a warm sentiment of closeness. I extend once again my heartfelt gratitude to the Church of Cyprus for its most generous welcome and hospitality. It is a source of great encouragement that despite some difficulties and misunderstandings all the Churches involved in the International Commission have expressed their intention to continue the dialogue.

The theme of the plenary session, The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium, is certainly complex, and will require extensive study and patient dialogue if we are to aspire to a shared integration of the traditions of East and West. The Catholic Church understands the Petrine ministry as a gift of the Lord to His Church. This ministry should not be interpreted in the perspective of power, but within an ecclesiology of communion, as a service to unity in truth and charity. The Bishop of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity (Saint Ignatius of Antioch), is understood to be the Servus Servorum Dei ["Servant of the servants of God"] (Saint Gregory the Great). Thus, as my venerable predecessor the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote and I reiterated on the occasion of my visit to the Phanar in November 2006, it is a question of seeking together, inspired by the model of the first millennium, the forms in which the ministry of the Bishop of Rome may accomplish a service of love recognized by one and all (cf. Ut Unum Sint, 95). Let us therefore ask God to bless us and may the Holy Spirit guide us along this difficult yet promising path.

Yet even as we make this journey towards full communion, we should already offer common witness by working together in the service of humanity, especially in defending the dignity of the human person, in affirming fundamental ethical values, in promoting justice and peace, and in responding to the suffering that continues to afflict our world, particularly hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and the inequitable distribution of resources.

The direction of this Commission is one of coming to understand that the role of the Bishop of Rome has not always been, in the course of 2 millennia, what it is today. There are fluctuations and developments, enrichments and setbacks, for better or for worse. The crucial thing is to determine the essentials of the Petrine ministry in the Church, knowing that cast in different contexts they can still be properly preserved and exercised.

The goal of all ecumenical dialogue is precisely this: to find, together, the essentials that must be recognized, and strive to present them in ways that allow for agreement between brothers and sisters, and restoration of unity in the family of the Faith. We seek together to fulfill the will of Jesus that we be one, united in Him and in one another. May Andrew and Peter be reunited soon with us all!

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Some of you may not care, and that's OK. But just in case you'd actually like to see any more of what I write beyond this blog, you can log on to, and click on "Pastor's Corner." There you can find essays I write for the weekly bulletin.

Whatever floats (or doesn't) your boat...


The winter solstice is only a few weeks away—folks know it as the shortest day, the longest night. It’s the official beginning of winter (even though, in fact, the earth is closer to the sun in our winter than in our summer). It’s not so bad here in Alabama, but when I was living in England (far nearer the Arctic Circle) twilight began setting in around 3:30—we had a maximum of perhaps 9 hours of sunlight in those days (if in fact the sun was shining at all—clouds are the dominant weather feature of winter in Britain).

It is natural to look to light as a sign of hope and joy, and this is one of the reasons for festivals of light in this time-frame. Christians (especially Catholics) light the four candles of our Advent wreath, one by one, for each of the four weeks of the season, as a longing anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world (John 9:5).

The Jews, too, celebrate the festival of lights at this time—Chanukah is the 8-day celebration of the Re-dedication of the Temple by Judas (“Maccabeus”) and his brothers in the middle of the 2nd century BC. The candles of menorah are also lit one by one, to mark the eight days. This year Chanukah will begin the evening of Saturday, 12 December.

In the Latin American world, this day will also be marked by celebration and much light: the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The processions and vigils, marked by candles and torches, will be nothing short of incredible, particularly in Mexico City and in Chicago.

We all need a guiding light, and we crave to celebrate that light at a time when in fact the days begin growing longer and the nights begin to shorten. In that light there is hope. Jews are waiting for the Messiah; Christians are waiting for the return of Jesus, the Messiah. And so we hope. The message of Guadalupe is that the Light we wait for is actually here and hasn’t left us, even when we feel lost in darkness.

Blessed Advent to us all. Blessed Chanukah to us all. Our Lady of Guadalupe, lead us to the Light.

PS--for a video clip of the procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe, I encourage you all to check ""--you'll love it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


This announcement came from the Vatican’s web-site this morning (11-28-09):

Following the 21 November meeting in the Vatican between Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, in the course of which they reiterated their desire to strengthen ecumenical relations between Anglicans and Catholics, on 23 November the meeting took place of the committee entrusted with preparing the third phase of the "Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission" (ARCIC). It was decided that this new phase will begin during next year.
The third phase will focus on fundamental questions concerning the Church - local Church and universal Church - understood as communion, and on the way in which the local and universal Church can, in communion, discern just moral teaching.
Over coming months the members of the commission will be appointed, and the date of its first meeting will be announced.

This set of dialogues will be critical for the future of ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglicans. By coming to an agreed understanding of the distinctions and relations between the local and the universal Church, we can perhaps better understand both the overture Pope Benedict made to Anglicans with the new Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. We will, I hope, come to a shared perspective on the ways in which a local Church can be truly a local expression and form while still being fully united in the universal Church.

Beyond this, it is significant that part of the purpose for dialogue in this particular area of theology is to try to agree on the methods by which there can be a unified process to ‘discern just moral teaching’ (and this would indeed mean agreement, at the very least in the basic principles of moral teaching). This is critical since divergences in moral practice have been at the core of the upset felt in the Anglican Communion these last several years.

Why do we dialogue at all? Surely it is because, in the words of St. Augustine, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and no matter what else is true, this will never be untrue so long as we all pray “Our Father.” If we seem, sometimes, to be at enmity with each other, this must cease; the best way is to look into each other’s eyes and see, not a demon, but a child for whom Christ suffered, died and rose. We are called to love each other and so bear witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. Again, as St. Augustine put it:

Blessed is the one who loves you, O Lord; and who loves his friends in you, and his enemies for your sake. For this is the person who loses none who are dear to him; to whom all are dear, in the One who can never be lost.

May we all one day soon be dear to one another, and united, in the One who can never be lost.

Friday, November 27, 2009


The Office of Readings in the Breviary for today featured an excerpt from a sermon by St. Cyprian (3rd century bishop of Carthage and martyr). The gist: if we really sincerely pray “Thy Kingdom come,” why are we afraid to leave this world to enter the Kingdom? The saints are waiting to welcome us!

So I thought: what’s my list for those I would long to meet and spend time with? I will admit up front that there are those whom I pray will be in Paradise, but I hope they’ll be on the other side from me! Besides them, there are of course the “main players” that EVERYONE would want to spend time with: Blessed Mother, Mary Magdalene, Peter and Paul, James and John, Ignatius Loyola, Thomas More, Francis of Assisi… There will be long lines to see them (but thankfully in eternity the concept of ‘waiting’ will be non-existent).

What about family? I surely would want to spend time with my Mom and Dad, but they would be #2 on my list here. I’d first of all want to spend time with my baby brother who died when he was six months old (and I was 8). I’d want to ask him, “How are you?” and “Who are you?” I guess I’d have, at least to some extent, Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven in my mind…
Also, I’d want to spend time with my maternal grandmother—she tried to say things in the last years in the nursing home, but no teeth, speaking softly, very slowly, and half in English, half in Slovak, I could understand nothing. I would want to ask, “Grandma, what were you trying to tell us?”
I’d love to talk with my paternal grandfather, too: I never knew him since he died before my Mom and Dad got married. “Who were you, Grandpa T.?”

Then there are the folks in history that have always intrigued me. I would love to spend time with my hero, Bl. Cardinal Newman (“Were you secretly angry that it took so long for ‘the cloud to be lifted’?”). And I would want to be able to be with Bl. Charles de Foucauld (“Why North Africa? You could have been a ‘universal brother’ in so many other places?”), Cardinal Bellarmine (“What did you really think about Galileo?”), Pope Gregory the Great (“Was the public administration dumped on you your greatest frustration as Pope?”), and perhaps also Bertrand Russell, the great atheistic philosopher (“Yes, I know you rejected belief in God because you found no evidence; now that you have plenty of it, let’s put that to one side and discuss philosophy…”). Sure, Russell was a reprobate, but a delightful one, and I want to believe it wasn’t too late for him…

Who are you longing to meet and spend time with? Who are your "5++ people"? Are you ready? I hope and pray that I am…

Thursday, November 26, 2009


The act of giving thanks is one of the most ‘God-like’ of our capacities. So often it is somehow receiving just what we think we do not deserve or cannot ever achieve on our own that becomes our greatest motivation for giving thanks—thanks for the present, and thanks to the one (or the One) whose gift it is.

Think of the role-reversal of the possessed man (Mark 5)—condemned to live life as an outcast, hated and feared, hating himself, ‘crying out and bruising himself with stones,’ the Scripture account tells us. And with a word of power Jesus casts the demonic forces out of him—the townspeople found him ‘clothed and in his right mind.’ Of course he begged Jesus to allow him to stay with Him!

I can imagine Jesus’ words to him: “Yes, I know; it’s been terrible. But you are all right now, and you are now possessed by the power of love. I need you to let the others in your town know about the goodness of God to you—please bring them that message.” And he did—surely becoming as much a remarkable sight for the people of the region (he preached all through the Decapolis—the Ten Cities) as the Samaritan woman must have been after her encounter with Jesus at the well (John 4). But once you’ve been graced, and once your heart is filled with gratitude for it, what else can you do?

We are very, very like the possessed Gerasene man and the Samaritan woman. We need the touch of graced love, and when we experience it really the only thing we can do is give thanks (in a joyful way). We’re so often in the stage of “pre-encounter”—alienated in the town, outcast in the tombs: wretched, miserable, suffering, seeing no future. Then it comes (then He comes), and insofar as we are open to the transformation we are freed. The gratitude then empowers us to accomplish things (and perhaps, also, to endure things) we never dreamed of being able to do or suffer. I pray we will believe that in spite of everything, we are not alone, we are loved, and that even as we walk in the dark, we can wait trustingly for the coming of the Light.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Do Catholic bishops have the right, or the obligation, to speak to Catholic politicians about faithfulness to Catholic teaching & practice?
Do Catholic politicians have an obligation to their Faith first of all, or to the desires of their constituency?
Should personal convictions color public policy-making?

A dialogue:

W. …the King needs a son; I repeat, what are you going to do about it?
M. I pray for it daily.
W. God’s death, he means it…Then good night! Oh, your conscience is your own affair; but you’re a statesman! Do you remember the Yorkist Wars?...Let him die without an heir and we'll have them back again! Let him die without an heir and this “peace” you think so much of will go out like that! (he extinguishes the candle). England needs an heir; certain measures, perhaps regrettable, perhaps not…All right, regrettable! But necessary to get us an heir. Now explain how you as Councilor of England can obstruct those measures for the sake of your own, private, conscience.
M. Well…I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties…they lead their country by a short route to chaos. (he relights the candle) And we shall have my prayers to fall back upon.

So, then, whom do you admire more (pun intended) in this dialogue: Cardinal Wolsey or Sir Thomas More? Or perhaps Thomas Cromwell, or Richard Rich, or Archbishop Cranmer…?

What is so terribly burdensome and distasteful about taking a public stand based on deeply held convictions? Does no one any more want to be "A Man For All Seasons"?

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Listen, King of the Jews/ Where is your kingdom?
Look at me—am I a Jew?

I have got no kingdom in this world…

Then you’re a king?

It’s you who say I am/ I look for truth and find that I get damned

But what is truth? Is truth unchanging law?
We both have truths—are mine the same as yours?

Those familiar (as most of us, I think, are) with Jesus Christ Superstar will recognize these words as part of the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate. I quote them for 2 reasons:
1. They are adapted from the excerpt from St. John’s Gospel for today’s Solemnity of Christ the King
2. They lead in to the only occasion for the full orchestral playing of the “Superstar” theme, showing us that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber knew what they were doing

In the Fourth Gospel, Pilate is given 2 tremendous lines. One is referred to as ‘the greatest exit line in all literature’—Quod scripsi, scripsi (“What I have written, I have written”—Jn. 19:22). The other is the sarcastic question, “What is truth?” (18:38). This latter one deserves to be unpacked.

In Pilate’s libretto above, there is expressed a very common ‘post-modern’ view—that there is no such thing as objective truth but only individual perceptions. Therefore, no one can properly criticize another if he/she does not embrace the person’s particular sense of ‘truth.’ To do so would be small-minded, not tolerant, one step (if that) away from fanaticism and bigotry.

This misses the point so entirely as to be virtually a deliberate charade.

Our beliefs may well differ; truth, however, is in fact objective. It has to be, and in all areas of learning and intellectual investigation (except perhaps for moral behavior) we recognize this. 2 + 2 does in fact equal 4. Jesus is either risen or dead. Our planet is experiencing global warming or not. There is what we call a black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy or not. Galileo’s view of the movement of the earth around the sun was right or wrong.

In the moral sphere, either a child conceived and in utero is a human life or it is not. There is no room for ‘different truths’ in such a case—it either is or it is not. Truth makes all the difference in how (and why) we form our beliefs. We cannot be callous to the process of investigating truth because we are afraid it might compromise our beliefs (or behaviors). And we cannot casually embrace what we decide to be truth because it is more convenient. Let the truth be discovered without hindrance and without fear. Then embrace the truth, no matter what pre-conceived notions may have been your baggage.

We both have truths—are mine the same as yours? If they are true at all, surely they must be…

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Austin Ivereigh is a wonderfully well-informed commentator on things Anglican & Catholic, an adviser to the former Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. In an essay in the current issue of America, Ivereigh reflects on ecumenical relations in the light of what was (when he wrote) the as-yet-unpublished Apostolic Constitution. He suggests the following:

The current logjam [in ecumenical dialogue] is less over women priests or gay bishops than over the disintegration of Anglican ecclesiology [read: the self-understanding of structures and operation of the church]. Rome has long complained that the official Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission [ARCIC] agreements are worth little when the Church of England’s general synod later repudiates them. Rome wants a church it can deal with. This means backing [Anglican] Archbishop [Rowan] Williams’s attempts to introduce a tighter ecclesiology into the Anglican Communion… a “Catholic ecclesiology” but without papal magisterium. The result of this…could be a smaller but more coherent communion in which authority is more clearly defined—and with which Rome can do business.

‘Disintegration’ is the key word in this excerpt. The goal of ecumenical dialogue has been the hope and desire to bring about unity and solidarity, not fragmentation. But there have been times when partners in dialogue have taken radical and serious steps unilaterally, in isolation from their partners. If the ordination of openly gay bishops in the Episcopal Church is one example, the revision of the liturgical language of the Catholic Church (currently nearly complete) is another example. After all, one of the goals of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) was to have an ecumenically agreed-upon set of texts in liturgical worship. It is not much different from a married couple deciding to make life decisions without consultation: it is a recipe for disaster.

If Archbishop Williams can indeed accomplish what Mr. Ivereigh is suggesting, it seems this would be a way of limiting (if not eliminating) such independent actions and decisions. It might indeed be a way forward in dialogue with the Anglican Communion that can bear real, abundant and wonderful fruit. But there will be need for a tremendous amount of spadework, fertilizing and nurturing before this can be the case. I hope our Churches are committed to engaging in the task—together.

Footnote: today a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission was named: Prof. John C. Cavadini, Chair of the Theology Department at the University of Notre Dame.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


No, today is not the major solemnity of the two Apostles of Rome--that's 29 June, of course. But today is the commemoration of the dedication of the basilicas of St. Peter's in the Vatican and St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls. Both were originally built by Constantine over what was believed to be the graves of these great saints.

This morning I shared some personal connections with these tremendous patriarchal basilicas. My Dad, for whatever reason, was very keen that I attend St. Ignatius HS in Chicago, and I did. Perhaps that is why, when I was in seminary in Rome (and this, after he died), that I never failed to make a pilgrimage on his birthday to St. Paul's--to pray for him in the Blessed Sacrament chapel behind and to the left of the high altar. For it was there that there was an all-night vigil in 1541, the conclusion of which saw the foundation of the Society of Jesus. And so when I visit Rome I do not fail to pray there, for him.

It is similar for St. Peter's. Though I was ordained a deacon there, in 1991, my Mom could not make the trip. She missed a blessed and splendid occasion. But I was able to make it up to her by taking her there in 1994. I could do things for and with her, as a priest, that I would not have been able to do as a deacon, including offering Mass with her in the Cappella Clementina, the crypt chapel the altar of which backs up directly upon the grave of St. Peter. Again, when I visit Rome I always want to try to do this again, in her memory. I must admit, though, that my best praying for her is actually at the church of Sant' Agostino, where Augustine's Mother, St. Monica, is buried. It seems a very appropriate place for a son to pray.

When family memories and memories of the "family of our Faith" coincide, it is a beautiful thing. If these are my memories, I hope you have yours, as well, wherever they may be.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


As I think you know, I love solving the “Celebrity Ciphers” in the daily newspaper. They are good opportunities for mental calisthenics and often offer a bit of wisdom or insight when solved. Today’s was special to me:

I don’t know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunsets.
--Astronaut John Glenn

Glenn, of course, was referring to the opportunity he had while orbiting the earth in the 1960s in our early Mercury space program. But his comment took me back a bit, to the 1940s, when Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry wrote Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). The hero of this story also had the chance to observe many sunsets in a “day,” since his home (Asteroid B-612) was so small—all he had to do was move his chair.

‘One day,’ [the Little Prince] said to me, ‘I saw the sunset forty-four times!’
And a little later you added, ‘You know—one loves the sunset, when one is so sad…’
‘Were you so sad, then,’ I asked, ‘on the day of the forty-four sunsets?’
But the little prince made no reply.

How often do we experience sadness and seek (and often find) consolation and comfort [these two are not the same thing] in the presence of Nature, or music, or poetry! We somehow instinctively know the truth St. Ignatius Loyola wanted to teach us, that we can (and must) find God in all things. A sunset, a poignant melody on the stereo, an animal nibbling at food we’ve put out in the yard for it—we seek and find His presence there, who calls to us through our sadness.

In his own way, the Little Prince lived out our own Christian hope that no matter what the trials, there will be a way out (and strengthening) for us. But he offers us a special key: do not despise what is offered to us as our means of ‘escape,’ for what we might at first blush think beneath us or contemptible may well be the most special means of our salvation. To end with a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:
'All that is gold does not glitter…'


This post is surely primarily intended for folks in the Mobile area who read this blog, but I hope others, too, might have their interest piqued and wish to join us...

Since the announcement and then the publication of the new Apostolic Constitution which will welcome into the Catholic Church those Anglicans who have petitioned to become Catholic and who wish to preserve their Anglican heritage, there have been many questions about just how this will work in practice.

Sunday evening, 13 December, will be a chance to ask your questions and hear some interesting perspectives on this new Vatican policy. The Archdiocesan Ecumenical Office will sponsor a symposium at Our Savior parish’s Jennings Hall at 7:00 pm to discuss the implications of this outreach, and to enjoy light refreshments and fellowship.

The panel of three will include Rev. Albert Kennington, the retired pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church in Mobile, currently heavily involved in Christian-Jewish Dialogue; Rev. David Tokarz, Ecumenical liaison for the Archdiocese; and Rev. Bry Shields, formerly an Episcopal priest who is now the Administrator of St. Pius X parish here in Mobile. His own personal journey makes his insights absolutely unique and valuable.

Please plan to join us on 13 December at Our Savior.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


In the spirit of this weekend's Scripture readings, I would like to propose a series of signs (beyond Jesus' reference to budding fig trees) that will indicate that THE END IS NEAR. They are in no particular order--choose the ones that most move you to final preparedness:

Comprehensive health care reform will be passed that pleases everyone

The next Pope will call a "Vatican III"

The upcoming Narnian movie will actually be faithful to the book

The entire 2010 baseball season will be played without the use of performance-enhancing drugs

The History Channel will show nothing but historical documentaries

Text messaging will become passe and cease to exist

Airline fares will go down, and at the same time qualtiy of service will go up

All computer worms and viruses will simultaneously and spontaneously self-destruct

Osama bin-Laden will embrace pacifism

The Cubs will win the World Series

Friday, November 13, 2009


The Celtic Canadian singer-songwriter Loreen McKennitt, on her CD "The Book of Secrets," has a final song titled "Dante's Prayer." The refrain is:
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me.

We are preparing to celebrate this evening our annual Memorial Mass: a liturgical remembrance of those in or connected to our parish family who have died in the last 12 months. As candles are brought forward to the altar in memory of each of the people commemorated, we sing the Taize chant "Jesus, Remember Me." There is poignance here that for me is deeply touching and overwhelming. It was one of the songs done at my Mother's funeral in 2005. It was a favorite of hers. I think of it every summer (among many other times) when I visit the family graves to pray, and to remember.

"Jesus, remember me..." Whether it is cried out in desperate hope by the "good thief" on his own cross, dying along with our Savior, whether it is sung at a memorial or chanted on Good Friday, it is a refrain we all can enter into with overwhelming passion: remember me, Jesus; don't let me slide into the realm of oblivion (which by the meaning of the word is the realm of those who are forgotten). I am small and pathetic; I have failed over and over; I have accomplished little. But Jesus--please remember me...

We say this even to friends when there are partings (and who knows about partings more than military families, or priests?)--let's not lose touch, let's keep in contact, let's get together some... We know all the phrases, and sometimes we can make them work. Sometimes, too, after a long absence, we encounter old friends and are able to pick up just where we left off with love, conversation, teasing, laughing: what an incredible blessing. And sometimes, too, even after a short separation, it seems as though an incredible abyss has caused our ways to part forever.

We want love to endure. We want, we need, to be remembered, and we need to remember. One of the essential aspects of Eucharist is that of "memorial," of recalling the past and making it a living presence, a Real Presecne, now. It was virtually Jesus' last word to His friends: "Do this in remembrance of Me."

And so we remember, and we beg to be remembered. Tonight we will remember. And we will beg for that gift which means we will have an eternal life in Him. He will remember us; in Him we will live. "Jesus, remember me..." When the dark night seems endless, please remember me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Today is not only Veterans’ Day, it is also the feast of St. Martin of Tours, a soldier in the army of the Emperor in the 4th century (only a little after Constantine legalized the Christian religion).

His conversion seems to be linked to his innate inclination to generosity, sharing his cloak with a freezing beggar (in a dream, the ‘beggar,' it turned out, was Christ). He declared his desire to leave the army and pursue other battles, against Satan, as a hermit.

It is a good thing that Canon Law did not exist in those days. Canon 1026 insists that no one can be coerced into ordination, but Martin (at the insistence of the people) was tricked: he was kidnapped and brought into the church where he was ordained bishop of Tours. Once so consecrated, he was a model of pastoral care.

Veterans today have many struggles, and as a result of their experiences in combat also deal with many additional demons—those produced by the memories of battle, experiences perhaps of having been prisoners of war, tortured, the loss of comrades (sometimes those right next to them in combat), realization that sometimes actions (sometimes, their own) have caused the deaths of civilians, believing oneself finally generally disregarded once back home… The list of demons is long and terrifying. As the political cartoon in today’s Mobile Press-Register put it, war doesn’t necessarily end just because the shooting has stopped.

So today we remember those who have engaged in combat to defend others, including us—perhaps most especially we remember those of the “Greatest Generation,” whose numbers are slipping away from us. And we remember, too, those who inspire us to do battle under the standard of Jesus Christ—committed to the combat of love, forgiveness, healing, prayer, service.

For all of us, then, St. Martin of Tours is a special saint and example.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Anyone who knows me knows I have a number of “heroes”—some spiritual and some more formally ecclesiastical. Among them are St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Ignatius Loyola and Bl. Charles de Foucauld; they include St. Thomas More, Mother Julian of Norwich, St. Robert Bellermine, Cardinal Bernardin, and C. S. Lewis. But my #1 “main man” is John Henry Cardinal Newman.

His life and writings are especially relevant today in the wake of the publication of the new Apostolic Constitution enabling Anglicans more easily to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church (an option which was absolutely rejected in the 19th century of Newman). Are there Anglicans today who are ‘disaffected’ by their communion? Yes, for various reasons. Newman was, as well: his reasons were all distinctly theological & historical, and for him they raised the issue of whether or not the Church of England was part of the ‘Church catholic’ or in schism. His move on 8 October 1845 to be received by Fr. Dominic Barberi came as a result of what finally came to be clear to him as an utter necessity for himself. What Newman said in letters to his sister Jemina (written within a year of his being received) is especially important to us now:

At my time of life men love ease—I love ease myself. I am giving up a maintenance, involving no duties, and adequate to all my wants; what in the world am I doing this for…except that I think I am called to do so? I am making a large income by my Sermons…the chance is [they] will have no further sale at all. I have a good name with many; I am deliberately sacrificing it….I am distressing all I love…I am going to those whom I do not know and of whom I expect very little—I am making myself an outcast…Oh, what can it be but a stern necessity which causes this?

I have no existing sympathies with Roman Catholics. I hardly ever, even abroad, was at one of their services—I know none of them.
And then how much am I giving up in so many ways—and to me sacrifices irreparable…from my especial love of old associations and pleasures of memory.

These comments remind us that there is literally only one reason for being a Catholic (or any other denomination of Christianity): we must be internally convinced that this is the best way (perhaps, the only authentic way) for me to follow Jesus Christ. Anything else, whether for matters of artistic taste or homiletic expertise or what is commonly understood by various people either as “proper solemnity” or “gregarious welcoming,” is simply insufficient. These things will no doubt color our view—ours is an obligation to make sure that we can get the proper lenses to correct any subjective ‘astigmatism’ that might be distoring our view, and see things clearly.

It took Newman six years from when he first “felt the hit from Rome” in 1839 to his conversion. During that time, as one scholar puts it, “he prayed, fasted and suffered with almost superhuman intensity.” No ‘conversion’ or move can really be based in anything other than prayer and fasting (as Jesus told His disciples—Mark 9:28-29, footnoted reading). The prayer anyone considering ‘conversion’ needs to make and live can be found in the words of Newman’s final sermon as an Anglican, “The Parting of Friends”:

And O, my brethren, O kind and affectionate hearts, O loving friends, should you know anyone whose lot it has been, by writing or by word of mouth, in some degree to help you… remember such a one in time to come, though you hear him not, and pray for him that in all things he may know God’s will and at all times he may be ready to fulfil it.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I mentioned that the new Apostolic Constitution for the Anglicans was published today, the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica-Cathedral of St. John Lateran—a date that perhaps has some significant impact, as this is the “Mother and Head of all Churches…”

The document itself was signed (therefore formally promulgated) last week, on the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo (4 Nov.). Is there any significance here? Maybe…

St. Charles was the great theological ‘mover and shaker’ that finally concluded the Council of Trent with its reforms; he vigorously implemented those reforms in his Archdiocese of Milan. It is largely through his example that what we understand nowadays as ‘seminaries’ came into being. He was the great figure of the times during and immediately after the Council of Trent—a leader in the “Catholic Counter-Reformation” that was so desperately needed.

Why do I bother with such “significances” or “coincidences”? I cannot help but remember that when it came to throwing down the gauntlet, so to speak, in the Oxford Tractarian Movement, John Henry Newman published his famous (infamous?) Tract 90, explaining how all of the 39 Articles of the Church of England could be understood in a ‘catholic’ way. The date: the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (25 Jan.) in 1841.


The Vatican this morning published the official text of the new Apostolic Constitution ‘Anglican-orum Coetibus’ which will give the guidelines by which communities might come into full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving some of their characteristically Anglican modes of worship and practice.

Significantly (?), the publication date is the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, known as Omnium urbis et orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput (‘Mother and Head of all Churches in the City and the World). St. John Lateran, not St. Peter’s, is actually the Cathedral of Rome, the ‘Home-Church’ to the Pope as Bishop of Rome.

In the near future, the Mobile Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs Office hopes to host a symposium on this Apostolic Constitution—more on that as the arrangements are made. Meanwhile, for those who also wish to read the full document, it can easily be found on the Vatican’s web-site.


In the current number of Magnificat, for this past Saturday, there was a lovely meditation on trust by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, a Carmelite from Belgium. In part, he said this:

“[Mary] believed when the angel spoke to her; she continued to believe even when the angel left her alone and she found herself in the condition of an ordinary woman who knows that she is about to become a mother….
The Blessed Virgin teaches us to believe in our vocation to sanctity, to divine intimacy. We did believe in it when God revealed it to us in the brightness of interior light…but we should also believe in it when we find ourselves alone, in darkness, amid difficulties that tend to disturb and discourage us. God is faithful, and he does not do things by halves: he will finish his work in us..."

The looming of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Ida here in Mobile is a concrete ‘sacramental’ of that darkness so many of us feel at various times in our spiritual walk. So long as we have followed the ‘hurricane preparedness guidelines” of our spiritual life, we’ll survive even through the storms.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Sunday’s 1st reading (I Kings 17:10-16) offers us an image of Elijah’s encounter with a widow that is filled with interesting contrasts, ironies and lessons. They are all worth noting.

Let’s start with a basic one—the widow is from a town in Sidon, the home-country of Queen Jezebel, the prophet Elijah’s deadly enemy. Would it not make sense that the widow would think that “the enemy of my Friend is my enemy”? Would not Elijah have been expected to think “The friend of my Enemy is my enemy”? Yet he asks (humbly, in fact, as the Hebrew shows), and she graciously responds, honoring the ancient standards of hospitality. She might have been expected to tell Elijah what the Samaritan woman first told Jesus (John 4:9)—“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” She doesn’t; she’s far more akin to the “Good Samaritan” that Jesus describes in His parable (Luke 10:30-37).
[Just a footnote of vocabulary: the Greek word zenos, which gives us a root for the word ‘zenophobia,’ or ‘fear/loathing of strangers,’ is also able to be translated as guest.]
She is in fact incredibly gracious: she admits that Elijah’s God is not hers—“As the LORD, your God, lives…” (I Kings 17:12). Yet she listens and obeys. More than this, she satisfies Elijah’s needs before she meets those of her son and herself. As one scholar put it, she responds to the demands of hospitality even in the face of famine. She is less an example of poverty (though she is this, as well) as she is a witness to faithful trust.

The Elijah story is paralleled today with the Gospel account of the poor widow. It’s an obvious and splendid comparison, but I think I might have reached for a different one: a comparison with Mary at the Annunciation. Let’s think about it.
Elijah’s words to the widow (“Fear not”—I Kings 17:13) are the words of angelic annunciations throughout the Scriptures. They are the words of Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:30). In both of these cases, women regarded as defenseless (one a widow, the other unmarried, even if engaged) acted upon a strange messenger who proclaimed even stranger tidings to them; they both trusted, and God’s action was revealed through them both—“She was able to eat for a year, and [Elijah] and her son as well…” (I Kings 17:15); “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45).

How is our faith-life tested? Can we embrace a call to fidelity and trust to the same degree as Mary or the widow of Zeraphath? If not, to what degree can we embrace that kind of response? What might we be able to accomplish, after all, with a couple of dry sticks and a handful of flour, if we were willing to share? She and her son did not die, after all: as the LORD our God lives, so they lived.

I want to live—is it worth a handful of flour and a few drops of oil to me? Can I give a cup of cold water to someone because of being a disciple (Matthew 10:42)?

Lesson to be learned--perhaps the "friend of my Enemy" might still be my friend?

Thursday, November 5, 2009


If sometimes you wonder why such strong anti-Catholic feeling can be experienced in the United States, you must consider this day in 1605—the day when the famous “Gunpowder Plot” was exposed.

The way the story is told, there was a plot (today we’d call it a terrorist attack) to blow up the Houses of Parliament while in full session with the King, James I. Disaffected Catholics were said to be the basis of the plot, including an Englishman of Spanish descent named Guy Fawkes. He confessed under torture (I would have, too—and, most likely, to anything!), and the Church of England instituted a liturgical feast to celebrate its triumph over “the evils of popery.”

This was seen as “strike three” by many English Protestants: the first two were Pope Pius V’s excommunication of Elizabeth I, and then the sending of the Spanish Armada. The result was not only the laws which led to execution (hanging, drawing and quartering) for the ‘treasonous’ crime of being a practicing Catholic priest, but also a further set of what came to be called “penal laws,” effectively disenfranchising Catholics from public life in England. These laws were never formally repealed until 1829. [In this regard reading the life of Oliver Plunkett is very instructive, so long as it is balanced by a reading of the execution, under Mary I, of Bishops Cranmer, Ridley & Latimer. No one’s hands are clean…]

This is the mentality of the original colonists in our part of the New World. They carried with them the national resentment for all things Catholic and “popistic,” and they were proud of their bias. It was commemorated for years on 5 November by the burning of an effigy of the pope, along with celebrations of fireworks.

The intensity of this hatred cooled somewhat during the succeeding decades, but the celebration never ended. It has, in its own way, been transformed into a British equivalent of Halloween. Children will build straw men and will sit at a bridge, begging “A penny for the Guy.” Most of them do not realize that “guy” refers to a proper name and is not a generic word for “fellow.” They will beg for a couple of weeks leading up to 5 November—then bonfires and fireworks finish off the evening’s celebration.

We can fairly lament and condemn the stupidity of that small cadre of Catholics whose idiotic (not to say incompetent) plot put the lives of the vast majority of English Catholics at risk and under a great burden. We can also lament the small-mindedness that equated this act with “the way all Catholics everywhere really are,” a sentiment we still live with, in far too much of America. It would be nice if the celebration of Guy Fawkes Day could instead be turned into a feast of reconciliation and tolerance and mutual understanding.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


In a week that has already seen a celebration of all the saints and a commemoration of all who have died, these last 2 days are a remarkable coming together of saints from radically different backgrounds who sought our Lord following different paths: they both found “Him whom my heart desires” (Song of Songs 3:1, 4). I am referring to St. Martin de Porres and St. Charles Borromeo.

They were approximate contemporaries, both born in the 16th century. Martin actually was born about 5 years before Charles died. They both in fact died of fever. This is about all one can say about their respective lives that even vaguely overlapped.

Martin, born in Peru (illegitimately) of a Spanish father and black mother, was virtually disowned by his father because of his mixed-race background. Charles, on the other hand, was born into a noble family in the north of Italy. While Martin’s devotion made him (if you like) the “Jackie Robinson of the Dominicans”—he caused them to break down their color barrier—Charles was a nephew of Pope Pius IV.

Martin’s great gifts included the ability to beg (a charism that was particularly appropriate for a member of a mendicant, or begging, Order), and the ability to tend the sick with great love and tenderness and skill. He even anticipated the SPCA by establishing shelters for stray dogs and cats. There was no task so menial that Martin would not embrace it and make it “prayerful work.”

Charles was a leading figure in the institutional reform of the Church. His was the guiding voice in the concluding sessions of the Council of Trent, and while Archbishop of Milan he pressed for all the reforms the Council mandated, that the Church so desperately needed, and which were opposed by many who stood to lose personal gain as a result. One of the ways favors were passed down was called nepotism, loosely used to refer to special privileges given to family and close friends (think of the ‘patronage system’ of the old days in the Chicago of Mayor Daley, aka “Richard I”). In this case (perhaps the only time in history), a literal nephew’s being favored worked to the advantage of the Church. “Uncle” Pope Paul IV created his nephew a Cardinal while he was only 22—3 years before he was ordained a priest!

Humble service and ministry; noble service and drive for reform. One in the New World; one in the Old World. Martin was sometimes known as the “Saint of the Broom” for his willingness to engage in lowly tasks, yet the title could also, in a way, have been a good one for Charles, as he tried to sweep away the Church abuses which had led to the 16th century Reformation.

Both heard a call and answered. And this week, back to back, they are celebrated as brothers in the Communion of Saints.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Crypto-quotes are the path to enlightenment, as I have come to believe! Words of wisdom, once deciphered, might come from Seneca or Albert Schweitzer or from a wide range of other sources. The truth is always less in the teller than in the telling itself. Just a few days ago the newspaper’s ‘Celebrity Cipher’ offered this insight:

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else.

The source of this quote—Judy Garland.

This is much like a story told about some of the “Desert Fathers”—hermits and monks who lived in the wild lands in Egypt, Palestine and Syria in the 4th and 5th centuries especially (a period of time scholar Peter Brown referred to as “The World of Late Antiquity”). In this particular story, a young monk seeks insight from an older master (an abba, as he was called) about how to discern a vocation or career in life. The old man told him, “The Scripture tells us that Abraham was hospitable, and God was with him. And David was humble, and God was with him. And Elijah loved solitude, and God was with him. So whatever you desire to do that allows you to follow God, do it, and be at peace.”

The advice given here is really not much different from the advice we can find in the Scriptures, in the Book of Ecclesiastes (9:10)—“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…”

And one can also say, in this spirit, whichever path one finds one on that can lead to God and is in one’s personal nature, follow it with enthusiasm. Not all of us do all things, but from many different paths and ways of life we can find our way to God.

To refer back to the ‘quiz’ I offered a few postings ago, for All Saints Day—do we all have to become priests and bishops, like St. Augustine? Need we all found (or join) religious congregations like St. Francis and the Franciscans, St. Ignatius and the Jesuits, or St. Vincent de Paul and the Vincentians? Need we all become penitential hermits, like St. Thais? No. These were their ways to God; what is ours is all that matters.

Is your path to God through motherhood or fatherhood? Might it be through direct service to the poor? Could it be through teaching or counseling? Perhaps it is by being a good student-athlete. It’s a matter of joy, really—the joy that comes from the mutual pleasure of a relationship with God:
I know God made me for a purpose—for China. But He also made me fast; and when I run, I feel His pleasure on me.

Eric Liddell (in Chariots of Fire) knew this kind of mutual pleasure—happiness at pleasing God, and receiving His pleasure in return.

Do our desires truly put and keep us on the path of following God? When we are honest, we know that this is the easiest to answer of all the questions we might ask.

“Whatever your hand finds to do…”