Friday, April 30, 2010


One of the most respected of Catholic reporters/writers is John Allen of NCR. As a result of his taking part in a conference in Chicago of the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators (largely lay, of course), Allen wrote the following in a series of observations he made:

"[T]here is a widespread sentiment that the public relations approach of the Vatican doesn’t seem to be helping. Based on the reactions they’ve picked up in their workplaces, families, and neighborhoods, these Catholics were reporting that blaming the media, and comparing the attacks on the pope to anti-Semitism or to “petty gossip,” have fueled public impressions that the church is in denial. Given that the folks at NACPA often have backgrounds in corporate management, several asked me why the Vatican doesn’t bring in a team of faithful lay Catholics with communications expertise to give them advice. Of course, there’s a truckload of reasons why it’s difficult to put together a coordinated communications strategy in the Holy See, not the least of which is that it’s a far more decentralized and loosey-goosey environment than people imagine. That said, my experience at NACPA and elsewhere suggests there’s a vast reservoir of Catholics who would dearly love to offer their professional skills to help the Vatican out -- if only someone would ask."

I offer this comment to you because I think of the members of Our Savior parish in exactly the opposite way: I am thrilled when you ask me how you’d like to be involved, rather than waiting for me to ask you (though I do try to do this). Some of the better ideas we’ve been implementing have come from suggestions made by parishioners who were then also willing to “take the ball and run with it.” I am thinking of our “Singing Needles” group, or the various kinds of Bible study we’ve had in the past, or the forming of a “Welcoming Committee,” and so on.

We have not acted on all suggestions: sometimes it’s because of lack of time and energy; sometimes it’s because of lack of time; sometimes because it’s just not the right time for us. But that doesn’t mean suggestions shouldn’t be made, especially when sweat and effort are being offered along with the suggestions. This is, ultimately, why our Parish Council and Finance Council are so important, and it is what the parish survey was/is all about: sorting out what you think and where you’d like Our Savior to move in the next 5 or so years. Without your input and energy, we will founder.

What are your thoughts? How would you like to help? What is your expertise or talent, and how do you think it can best serve the Church?

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Hermann Prey was one of my all-time favorite baritones--a voice I would dearly love to have! His performances in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus are treasured in my memory.

Here he sings (along with the Vienna Boys' Choir) a German Christmas carol, Tochter Zion, freue dich. The title is translated "Rejoice, Daughter Zion" (based on Zechariah 9:9). It depicts the coming of the messianic king, and so has long been applied to Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It is also set by Handel in Part I of Messiah. And so here is a series of connections with my last post.

Below, the carol is sung with a melody familiar to those who listened to my last post's music. Enjoy the bonus++!


I am reading a book now by an author named Clare Asquith, Shadowplay. The thesis is that most of the plays of William Shakespeare were written with “sub-plots” that reflected his position on the issue of religion in England during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James I (James VI of Scotland). The premise is that Shakespeare strongly sympathized with the cause of the “old Catholics,” waiting (in vain) for the restoration of freedom for the practice of the Faith.

Asquith argues her point of view well. Though (to quote Hamlet) my first thought was, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” I believe she has made a very, very strong and consistent case. I say this being someone who never bought into the “interpretation” of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a way of doing closet-catechesis of Catholic children. This was always, to me, forced and unlikely (and it is, in fact, untrue).

But the technique is clearly a real one: Handel used it, for instance, in his oratorio Judas Maccabeus, when his chorus “See, the conqu’ring hero comes!” supposedly marks a victory for the Maccabees but in reality was a tribute to the Duke of Cumberland in his defeat of the Scots and “Bonny Prince Charlie” at the Battle of Culloden in 1745.

The lesson is to keep one’s eyes and ears open—you never know what you might be seeing or hearing, and what it really means.

We could make the same point about Jesus. When asked directly whether or not He is the Messiah, Jesus says, “I told you, and you do not believe” (John 10:22-26). The Biblical theologian N. T. Wright comments: “Jesus will not say it in so many words, though anyone listening closely to what he’d said about the good shepherd would have picked up the message easily enough. …As usual, he refers them instead to the works that he’s doing."

That’s not always enough for us, either—after the multiplication of loaves, Jesus tells the crowds who have followed, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are not looking for me because you saw the sign, but because you had your fill of bread” (John 6:26). We can “see” and yet not see, “hear” and yet not hear.

“My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me,” Jesus tells us today (John 10:27). “Hearing,” in this context, means recognizing the Voice and being faithful to its calling. Are we hearing? If we’re not really listening, we’ll never be able to hear. How can we properly listen? In quiet prayer we listen to the Spirit prompting our hearts. In Scripture reading we listen to the Word speaking through the words. In active participation in the Liturgy we listen to the rhythm and reason of the prayers, along with the unspoken word of the worship itself, the Sacrament of Ultimate Love.

Look closely; listen well. Who knows what we just might hear and see?
As a "bonus," here is an instrumental arrangement of the Handel chorus I referred to. I bet you recognize the music!

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Here are some issues raised during the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) during our sessions in Tampa this past week. I don’t propose answers but only the opportunity to think about the questions in our personal lives and in the life of our parishes and dioceses. Just notice that the terms “ecumenical” and “inter-faith” are different: the first has to do with Christians speaking to other Christians; the second, Christians speaking to non-Christian religions.

1. “All real inter-religious dialogue is local.” How “dialogic” are we as individuals and as parishes and as dioceses?
2. How do we go about fostering an ecumenical “theology of communion” with others, engaging them as partners in Christ?
3. The first step in all dialogue is entering into relationships. Does this describe us?
4. Does “ecumenical fatigue” whisper to us that there’s no real point so why bother with dialogue?
5. Is the Holy Spirit active in the ecumenical movement? Is the Holy Spirit active in inter-faith dialogue?
6. When thinking about moral issues that divide denominations, do we recognize that these issues are also divisive within denominations?
7. Is it possible to form consciences, define moral absolutes, examine the place of natural law, and accept authoritative teaching in dialogue and not unilaterally?
8. What is the place, in this process of discernment, of naming/confessing our sins together, as church bodies?
9. “Foolishness is a greater threat to Good than Evil is.” Would we agree?
10. Should our goal in dialogue be true ecclesiastical reconciliation or simply mutual understanding/acceptance/tolerance?

I hope you can see the depth of the issues we were struggling to face during the week of the conference. The establishment of relationships was something I was very blessed with during the time—the one weakness is that I will not be able to encounter most of these people until next year’s NWCU, nor will I likely engage these ideas in the same way and with the same intensity and sense of urgency. We all know the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind”…

Still, I hope this can stimulate you to thoughts that are new, perhaps daring, and hopefully Spirit-filled. We are coming to the Solemnity of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit. And had it not been for the perpetual transfer of the Solemnity of the Ascension to the following Sunday, we would also be hearing the Gospel prayer of Jesus, “May they all be one” (John 17:23). The questions I am offering need to be prayed through, in light of the explicit desire of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Pray well, think well, love well!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Jim Furyk is for me a golf hero, and not just because he has a bizarre swing. He’s not a “celeb” like some other PGA Tour players I could mention—he’s a hard worker who has enjoyed success because of his work ethic. And he won the Heritage at Hilton Head today. Or should I say, he didn’t lose it?

This is because of a strange occurrence during the playoff. His fellow-competitor was Brian Davis of England. And Davis “gave” Furyk the championship. Hitting a ball out of bounds, Davis was readying for his approach shot when his club tickled a reed, causing it to move (the picture above shows where Davis was when he committed the infraction). Davis was probably the only human being to see this. But technically (and golf more than any other sport lives and dies by the word “technicality”) this amounted to “grounding the club” in a hazard—forbidden by the Rules of Golf. Davis called himself on it, gave himself a 2-stroke penalty, and thereby “gave” the victory to Furyk. Yet it could well be said that Davis did indeed “win” today…

It is reminiscent of the scene in the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance, when the young hero, in an exhibition against Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, also commits a technical rules violation and calls himself on it, though no one could see. The movie’s ending is a joy for all golfers!

This all leads me to ask, “When is the last time I called a penalty on myself—in anything?” I could phrase this question in a different way: “How authentically do I examine my conscience, and am I ready to accept the consequences of that proper and rigorous examination?” After all, it is said that "character" is what you do when no one is looking...

Bobby Jones lost the US Open by one stroke after calling a penalty on himself for a violation similar to that which Brian Davis committed. Jones’ reply, when commended for his honesty: “Sir, that’s like congratulating a man for not robbing a bank.”

Are we ready to “tee it up” in our life?

COMMERCIAL ADVERTISEMENT: If these essays interest you (either because you agree or disagree with them!), you might be interested in more writings which can be found at the web-site, under the title “Pastor’s Corner.”

Saturday, April 17, 2010


The Mobile Press-Register [4-17-10] carries an AP wire story which has a very unfortunate (because inaccurate) innuendo. It is short enough, but I will still excerpt it, to get to the heart of the issue. It concerns schismatic bishop Richard Williamson and his denial of the Holocaust. As this is a crime in Germany, Bp. Williamson was convicted and fined €10,000 (or about $13,500). The article continues:

The Roman Catholic bishop was barred by his order from attending Friday’s proceedings or making statements to the media.

Let me clarify. First of all, to call him a “Roman Catholic bishop” implies he is in full good standing in the Catholic Church, and this is simply false. Bans of excommunication have been lifted from him and three other schismatic bishops, but they are still affiliated with a breakaway faction and are NOT in good standing, nor are they permitted to exercise a priestly or episcopal office in the Catholic Church.

Secondly, he is not a member of an “order” (which suggests his group is no different from, say, the Jesuits or Franciscans or Dominicans). He is a member (to repeat the word yet again) of a body that is in schism from the Catholic Church.

In point of fact, one of the issues that has led to this situation is precisely the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jews. Vatican II is strongly positive of the Jews as a community of faith (our “older brothers and sisters”); such an attitude is rejected out of hand by the ultra-conservative “Society of St. Pius X” of which Williamson is a member; it is one reason why this group split away.

The Catholic Church has enough issues to suffer through and deal with right now that are real; the Church does not need the publication of misleading statements that encourage false conclusions.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I have written an essay (which will be in this coming weekend’s parish bulletin: see on the nature of evil, reflecting on a quote from N. T. Wright’s book Evil and the Justice of God. For those who might not know his name, he is the Anglican bishop of Durham in England and the leading Biblical theologian in the English language.

The essay was triggered by the new (old?) revelations of sexual abuse of children by priests, in America, in Ireland, and in Germany (need I add the Catholic Church is scarcely the only institution afflicted with this sin?). It was also triggered by my thoughts at and after last evening’s Yom ha-Shoah commemoration, remembering the Holocaust. Among the speakers was a woman who survived the death camp of Auschwitz, and an American soldier who was a liberator at Dachau.

What is there to say about the problem of evil, especially when we are confronted by abuse of children or systemic genocide? Whatever else is true, there better not be any cheap answers or pretending that the problem is only a “problem.”

I would like to offer two observations. The first is a quote from Wright’s book and is a commentary on pedophilia. The other comes from the writings of a survivor of the death camp, but its importance is much larger than that.

Wright accuses much of “modernity” (or, more properly, “post-modernity”) with having several tendencies, including looking at the world with blinders that encourage us to ignore evil until it smacks us upside the head. He writes:

Choice is an absolute good for everyone… We all know that sexual licentiousness creates massive unhappiness in families and individual lives, but we live in the twenty-first century, don’t we, and we don’t want to say that adultery is wrong. (We should perhaps note that only two generations ago many communities regarded adultery the way they now regard pedophilia, which is worrying on both counts.)

This last parenthetical comment is almost a throwaway line, but it is crucially important for us as we grapple with evil.

The second comment comes from the conclusion to Part I of Man’s Search for Meaning, the masterpiece of psychiatrist/Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl:

A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determing. What he becomes—within the limits of endowment and environment—he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.
Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who has invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who has entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.

The question “Why is there evil?” is less important than “Why are there evil tendencies in me?” And both are less important, by far, than the answer to the question “What will I do with my tendencies?” It’s terribly embarrassing when such questions are brought home. But where else should answers be sought? If charity begins at home, so do accountability and responsibility. And that means “me” before it means “us” or “them.”

Monday, April 12, 2010


I offer two quotations with a brief comment as helpful for our spiritual walk today. The first is from the Catholic Biblical scholar Gerard Sloyan (I quoted him in this past Sunday’s homily):

Jesus gives the gift of the Holy Spirit to make his followers a community in which forgiveness is firmly lodged… Failure to receive such remission will come only when this is the sinners’ choice.

Going back some 650 years, St. Gregory Palamas was one of the most outstanding mystical theologians of the Eastern Orthodox Church of the tradition that was called “Hesychasm,” or silence in the presence of the divine, uncreated Light. Quoted in Magnificat for this past Sunday, he writes:

I shall tell you, in your charity, something which has just occurred to me. I notice that Thomas lost his faith when he was absent, but when he was together with the believers his faith did not in any way fall short. So I have the idea that if only a sinner will flee the company of immoral men and associate with the just, he will never be found lacking in righteousness or the resultant salvation of his soul.

What we see expressed here is the need for community support in our desire and attempts to follow the “Way,” the path of discipleship. And surely this is why Jesus sent His disciples out two-by-two to preach (Mark 6:7ff. and parallels): so they could lean on one another, support one another, and so be more faithful together than they might be alone.

This principle pre-supposes that the community itself is faithful to the Word and the Way. It is the view presented by St. Luke in Acts (4:32; also 2:42, 5:12), when he writes, “The community of believers was of one heart and mind…” And that was “the mind of Christ,” as St. Paul wrote (I Corinthians 2:16).

The idea here is that the Church, the community, must ever be willing to forgive others though always with true accountability—read Psalm 99:6-8! It must also be willing (with accountability) to stand admitting its own need of forgiveness, yet not asking for it. The humility of admission is shown in willingness to wait until mercy is offered. And when it is, the remedy includes being re-connected with the community in which “righteousness or the resultant salvation of his soul” happens.

How do we forgive, and how do we confess? Where do we find strength for the journey along the Way? Will we attempt to “fly solo,” or will we recognize our weakness and remain rooted in the community “in which forgiveness is firmly lodged”?

Footnote: notice the white “scarf” with crosses in the icon of St. Gregory. This is the mediaeval shape of the “pallium,” the badge of authority worn by archbishops. Our Archbishop Rodi has the more modern-shaped pallium to signify his authority.

Friday, April 9, 2010


The passage of Romans 8:11, along with the Easter Vigil “Epistle” of Romans 6 (esp. vv. 5, 8) leads us in this great season of resurrection to thinking of all the needs we have: all the ways we need to be raised up, all the circumstances from which we need to be lifted up.

In light of that, I offer a few additional Biblical passages to pray over, along with a special musical meditation. Consider:

“It is good to hope in silence, for the saving help of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:26)

“GOD, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of hinds and enables me to go upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19)

“During the fourth watch of the night, [Jesus] came toward [the disciples], walking on the sea. …Peter said to him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’” (Matthew 14:25, 28)

“And when he does find [the lost sheep], he sets it on his shoulders with great joy…” (Luke 15:5)

Happy Easter--"Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!"

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


In the course of a wonderful year with my Jesuit spiritual director perhaps 4 years ago, I worked through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius stretched over a much longer period than the 30 days of intense exercise that was Ignatius’ original standard. He himself recognized that many folks could not spare 30 days in a row but could benefit from adaptations; these have come to be known as the “18th and 19th Annotated” Exercises.

Much of the focus in these Exercises is to enter deeply into the stories of the Gospel, and my prayer let me “fantasize” (if you will) on the scenes recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In particular, I felt free to “extemporize” the scenes for the sake of prayer, while (I hope) remaining faithful to the overall view of the Gospels’ stories.

Yesterday, after a good round of golf and some supper, I took a serious walk (4 miles, 1 hour) on the Sandestin complex, listening to the songs of John Michael Talbot on my iPod. His song “Holy Is His Name” drew me back into some of the scenes I had created, of the events prior to the birth of Jesus (yes, with a mix of Matthew and Luke going on). I had imagined that the “dream” Joseph had by which he heard the angelic voice telling him to welcome Mary, was actually several dreams (it took Joseph a while to “get the message,” so to speak). Mary, meanwhile, was with Elizabeth because she had nowhere else to turn. And when the word was sent to her that Joseph wanted her back, this was the “trigger” of her Magnificat. This was the time she realized “…the greatness of the Lord…the Almighty has done great things for me…He has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid…and holy is His Name” (Luke 1:46ff.).

In the context of a mysterious unplanned pregnancy, in the face of being rejected by her betrothed husband, facing what must have seemed like certain exile from her home town, Mary kept the faith—she was open to God’s work, and because of her openness (here, as well as earlier in accepting the angelic message), she saw God’s hand played out in wonderful ways. What could she do but rejoice?

What are the wondrous things that God does for us that we often do not notice? The introduction to Psalm 42 for this past Monday’s Morning Prayer in the Magnificat prayer book suggests that often we think God is absent, when the truth is we simply did not recognize Him; we did not “see the signs” (think of Jesus’ words to the crowds in John 6:26, after the multiplication of loaves and just before the “Bread of Life” discourse).

Today is a wonderful day to keep ourselves open to the touch of God, to the hints of Presence, to see with the eyes of the heart where the Lord is leading us. Holy indeed is His Name!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Taking some time off for R&R has been a good thing, but a special “viewing” reminded me whose world this really is.

There is a golf course that I both like and can afford in Destin—Seascape. I was playing well, and with three other persons. #18 has water all down both sides of the fairway, with water also on the right side and behind the green—nasty! The “real” water is on the right side.

Directly behind this tee-box is the green for #17. While we were in the fairway waiting to make our approach shots to #17, an osprey flew past us. I’d seen it a few minutes earlier, going back and forth to the top of a tree. This time he flew by with a fish in his mouth—snagged from the lake to the right of #18. We all stopped and pointed. It was really a majestic sight.

Golf courses are artificial constructs, even when (as is sometimes the case) the designer tries to preserve and incorporate natural qualities of the land (water, hills, trees) into his design. This course (and a number of others in the Destin area) post signs that they are being irrigated with “reclaimed water,” not from the aquifer that is the source of the area’s drinking water. Even so, courses cannot properly exist without this system of “faux rain.”

We can (and we did) enjoy the round of golf, and we enjoyed the weather, and we enjoyed the beauty of the nature around us. But the osprey reminded us that much of what we regarded as “nature” was unnatural (except a couple of the places I hit my balls on the front nine—another story for another time). The hunter (and his prey) was the truly natural part of that world. We were the invaders into his domain.

Whenever I get outside, I need to be reminded of this—the raccoons and rabbits and foxes that live in the woods behind the rectory are the real natives of the south end of Our Savior’s land, as are the jays and bluebirds and cardinals and wrens, and even the sparrows. I in the rectory am really the interloper, the invader. I need to be grateful they let me stay near their home. And I need to be more conscious of the fact that I am therefore a guest of sorts, and I should be on my best behavior toward them.

He is risen, even for ospreys and bluebirds and foxes (Romans 8:19-21). Happy Easter Octave Week!

Sunday, April 4, 2010


It is historical fact that the women and the disciples went to the tomb and found it empty. They were already in shock because of the death of their teacher and guilt-ridden because of their own pathetic abandonment of him. So how could the common and popular slander ever be true ("The disciples stole the body to pretend he was raised")?

They become changed men—from craven and cowardly to courageous and eloquent. They defied Caiaphas to his face. These men who were afraid of being known as associated with their teacher were now willing to face prison and whippings for his sake, and come back for more. Who endures this kind of thing if he/she knows it is for the sake of perpetuating a fraud?

What else (Whom else) did they see that produced such a miraculous transformation? What could end their guilt if not the gift of forgiveness and the peace that came as a result? If they were truly forgiven, by Whom was the forgiveness given? If they were truly “Apostles,” then by Whom were they sent (for that is the meaning of the word ‘apostle’)?

It’s all about what John Henry Newman long ago called “converging probabilities” that make the act of faith, while still an act of faith, a reasonable thing and not an utter absurdity.

Go to “the tomb” today at your church—open the eyes and ears of your heart. What might you see and hear that could make all the difference and transform you, as His followers were transformed almost 2,000 years ago?

Enjoy the grand finale of Messiah, the great hymn of praise from Revelation 5 which celebrates the promise of the ultimate victory of Love. Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


The Easter Vigil has arrived--the great night of all nights is here. Now we can sing in the Exultet: "This is the night...O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, that gained for us so great a Redeemer."

Tomorrow morning we will also sing (or listen to) the Sequence Victimae Paschali Laudes after the 2nd Reading and before the Gospel. As a taste of that, below is the "Agnus Dei" movement from John Rutter's Requiem. At about 4'20" listen for a flute solo, and know that you'll hear that same melody Sunday morning. Enjoy, and happy Easter--"I am risen and am with you still."

Thursday, April 1, 2010


One reviewer of the 2nd of the Star Wars sagas commented that the first movie (the original Star Wars) allowed for a sequel; the 2nd (The Empire Strikes Back) demanded one.

For those folks whose love of classical music leans toward masochism (sorry—I’m biased!), seeing the ending of Wagner’s Die Walküre (#2 of the four-operas of Der Ring des Nibelungen), with Brünnhilde in an enchanted sleep, guarded by the Magic Fire, while Wotan walks off the stage, you know you must come back for (yet) another 5-hr opera, Siegfried.

Taking part in Holy Thursday’s Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper is in its own way like the Star Wars series or the Ring tetralogy: you know by the way tonight’s worship doesn’t end that there is more to come: we leave Jesus “in the Garden”—do we stay with Him and pray? It’s the beginning of the “Triduum” (the 3-Day liturgy). What will happen next?

A couple of years ago a man (whose wife and son are Catholic) was asked to come to the Triduum because a friend of his asked him (the friend was in the process of becoming Catholic at that Easter Vigil). The man later told me, “I saw Holy Thursday, and I had to see what would happen on Friday. Then I had to come back again for the Easter Vigil.” He joined the RCIA process and was received into the Church the very next year.

This is the power of the liturgy—to draw us into the Paschal Mystery of the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord: the once-for-all sacrifice made present and effective sacramentally for us here and now.

I hope many will experience the somber setting of tonight’s liturgy, with foot-washing and procession and adoration; I hope many will continue through the starkness of Good Friday’s Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion, with the petitions, the Cross, the Communion; I hope many will enter into the joy of the Liturgy of the Lord's Resurrection at the Easter Vigil, with the new fire, the Easter candle, the history of salvation, the empty tomb, the baptisms, the return of “Alleluia” to our worship.

St. Augustine said, “We are Easter people, and ‘Alleluia!’ is our song.” The Triduum is the best way I know fully to appreciate being Easter people filled with Easter joy. Come join the Church in her desire to be resurrected with Christ, to be renewed in Christ, to be purified by Christ.