Wednesday, June 30, 2010


The trailers are out now for the film of #3 of C. S. Lewis' Narnian stories--its release is set for Christmas. The first 2 movies have had little except the broadest strokes in common with the books; oh, well! Will this one be different? Probably not, but in the interests of comparisons, here's a way to enter into the world that Lewis imagined (rather than the cinematographic one fantasized by film-makers).


1. How is Eustace’s full name perhaps a play on the full name of C. S. Lewis?
2. What is the name of the Governor of the Lone Islands?
3. What is the difference between Coriakin and Ramandu?
4. What does Genesis 14:18-20 have to do with Coriakin?
5. What is the sacramental meaning of the change of Eustace into a dragon, and then his “de-dragoning”?
6. In what way is Caspian’s outburst at the end of the book like that of Henry II of England in the December of 1170?
7. How is Reepicheep, in the end, like Elijah the prophet?
8. Compare the end of the book to details in chapter 21 of John’s Gospel.
9. At the end, Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund they will never return to Narnia. What is there about that conversation in the book that virtually guarantees it will never appear in the movie?

NOTE: the picture above right is an Oxford pub, "The Eagle and Child" (also referred to as "The Bird and Baby"). Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and others in the group "The Inklings" gathered there for years on Tuesdays to drink a pint of beer and talk. It is also the first pub I ever had a drink in, during my time at Oxford.


I dragged John Henry Newman into the picture I recently drew, of the Donatist controversy as illuminating our current Church stresses over sexual abuse of minors. The influence of St Augustine’s insights in Newman’s own conversion can be read famously in the Apologia Pro Vita Sua, his spiritual autobiography. But thanks to an e-conversation with a friend, I think it proper to bring the Cardinal in a bit more directly to the conversation.

In discussing his state of mind, religiously speaking, since becoming a Catholic in 1845, Newman wrote that there were doctrines in “the Christian Creed, whether as held by Catholics or by Protestants, [that are] beset with intellectual difficulties…” But these were not so troublesome for him as others might think they should be: “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”

Granted that Newman was, as he says, referring to doctrinal issues, yet the principle seems good to me in today’s Church context, as well. There are many things in the Church, especially with regard to its behaviors and the ways in which some exercise authority and impose discipline, at all levels of the Church’s governance, which give me trouble. In some cases these things seem arbitrary; in other cases, unjust. In most cases they are the flaws of individuals in the Church. They sometimes do make life difficult—for some, very difficult.

And of all people, Newman knew of this kind of pettiness in his own life as a Catholic. It was a pettiness rooted, I believe the evidence shows, in their deep-set jealousy of his brilliance, balance and regard by others in England (Catholic and Protestant alike: writings like his Apologia and Letter to the Duke of Norfolk led even Protestants in England to refer to him as “our Newman”).

So we need to focus not on the difficulties that the Church’s blundering has created, not on the difficulties that behaviors and policies have encouraged, not on the difficulties that pettiness has inflicted, but on the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord. Difficulties do in fact make things difficult; they do not have to lead us to doubt or distancing from our Faith.

A bit of lagniappe: Newman is traditionally given as the source for the saying Growth is the only evidence of life. In fact, Newman tells that this is a saying based on the writings of Thomas Scott, an Englishman who made the spiritual journey from Unitarianism to Calvinism in the late 18th century—whom Newman read and was influenced by even before he came up to Oxford as an undergraduate.

The other “proverb” Newman says he took from Scott was Holiness rather than peace. This surely was the summary of his life as a Catholic, until Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal in 1879, lifting the cloud from him forever.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


In the late 4th century in North Africa, the new bishop on the block (St Augustine, of Hippo Regius, near Carthage) discovered that while he was a member of the “catholic” Church, he was in the minority in his new diocese—the sectarian and schismatic Donatists were the primary body of believers there. Why were they separated from the Church? The answer has relevance to our situation today as Catholics.

During the end of the 3rd century and beginning of the 4th, a violent persecution was leveled against Christians (under the Emperor Diocletian). In the course of this persecution, it was charged that some bishops bought themselves out of the trouble of martyrdom by offering to hand over copies of the sacred Scriptures to be destroyed. [This role of those who were doing the ‘handing over’—the traditores—gives us the obvious word in our language.] As a result, the sectarians claimed that such bishops could never administer the Sacraments validly since they were apostates. Since this was the case, only those who had suffered for the Faith could be considered in what we today call “the Apostolic Succession” which guarantees valid Sacraments and the True Church. This meant the Donatists, as opposed to the “catholics.” No one should be surprised to know that St. Augustine disagreed with this view.

His arguments were powerful and cogent (in their own way, almost 1,500 years later, influencing the decision of John Henry Newman to become a Catholic). But one in particular has always stuck with me. In a letter, he argued strongly that the relative “holiness” of a given priest or bishop does not compromise the truth of the Faith (though it might cause them to stand condemned). As he put it, “Christian hope is founded not a man, but on the Lord.”

Today, especially in the light of the actions in Belgium seizing what were confidential documents in an on-going investigation of clerical sexual abuse of minors, one reels from the extent of the accusations (and their evident validity). From the United States through Belgium, Ireland, Poland, Austria, Germany and Italy, just to name a few countries, the Church is being exposed as an institution of sinners that covers up its own when it can. This, in turn, has caused the Church to lose credibility with many, and it has produced the kind of discouragement that has led many to abandon their faith. But that is the mistake St. Augustine is speaking to, I think.

Like Augustine in the 4th century, we too should say that our hope is founded not on a man (who by nature can be deceptive because temporal and fallible), but on the Lord. The truth is true, even when spoken by liars and frauds.

Today we need more witnesses of the Church as “Suffering Servant” rather than an institution decked out with the pomp and circumstance that speaks all too loudly of privilege, power and position. Peter and Paul are celebrated today precisely because they were martyrs, true witnesses of the faith they preached and served. But whether or not we are always able to point to such leaders ourselves, let’s remember that our faith is based on the teaching and the ultimate Teacher, and no one else. Let’s allow bad shepherds to stand condemned (Ez. 34); but let’s stay part of the flock. After all, like St. Augustine, we know who the Real Shepherd is.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Just this past Friday the Scripture readings for Mass involved the deportation (for the 2nd time) of Jews to the foreign land of Babylon, leaving only the poorest of the poor behind “as vinedressers and farmers” (II Kg 25:1-12). In an interesting pairing, the Gospel relates Jesus’ cure of a leper (Matt 8:1-4). The theme here, it seems, is one of being an outcast, an exile, someone displaced, belonging nowhere, acceptable to no one.

It seems easy for Americans to see foreigners as “outcasts”—social lepers, if you will: our nation’s history, unfortunately, has too often been marked with a spirit of xenophobia, or fear/resentment of ‘strangers.’ Think of the “nativist” and “No-Nothing” movements in the 19th century, or the anti-immigrant (often, anti-Catholic) sentiments of the late 19th and early 20th century, and so on. The irony is that the Greek work xenos is also able to be translated (for the Greeks, anyway) as ‘guest’…

Christians and Jews are called to look at others, even ‘aliens,’ as people to be accepted: Jews are reminded never to oppress an alien because “you yourselves were once strangers and aliens in the land of Egypt”; Christians are admonished to respect and reach out to those in great need because “I was a stranger and you welcomed me; …inasmuch as you did it for one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

The people of the world are a migratory people by necessity and by compulsion: some folks are driven from their land by persecution or war; others move because of economic issues, seeking work and money to support their families. Famine was why the children of Israel first went into Egypt; persecution was why the Holy Family fled into Egypt. English settlers came to the New World in part to avoid religious persecution; other Europeans came here because the poverty was too great to endure in countries like Ireland, Poland, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Lebanon… All were willing to uproot themselves, like Abram from Ur of the Chaldeans, to find a place where they could hope for something better.

Today’s migrants are no different in their motivations, coming from Haiti or Mexico or other places where suffering is the way of life. In this regard, it is perhaps helpful to remember that before the war of 1850 (a war of “Manifest Destiny”), much of what we call the American Southwest was in fact the territory of Mexico…

Surely immigration needs to be regulated, and migrants need to be documented. The issue is how openly we as a nation are to facilitating this possibility, rather than restricting it. We can look on others who are different as people of Jesus’ time looked at lepers. Or we can see them as He did—those who need to be declared ‘clean,’ and who need to be welcomed into human society. Can we look with the eyes and compassion of Christ?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


On Tuesday, 29 June 2010 Pope Benedict will confer the pallium upon newly-named archbishops in the context of the celebration of the Eucharist on the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul. Folks probably know that the pallium is a stole-like, scarf-like vestment given to archbishops to signify their authority and their being linked to the See of Rome. Made from wool shorn from sheep specially blessed on 21 January, the feast of St. Agnes (whose name is a variant on agnus, or “lamb”), these pallia will repose overnight in a chest in the confessio, or area below the high altar of St. Peter’s, in front of the Apostle’s tomb.

Thirty-eight new archbishops will be so honored, and my point in writing this is to offer a glimpse into the catholicity of the Church. Countries to be represented in this year’s ceremony are:
Ecuador Zimbabwe Lesotho Brazil Canada
Italy Angola Philippines Mexico England
Spain USA Cameroon Slovenia South Africa
Belgium Colombia Panama India Czech Republic
Korea Poland Vietnam Ghana Madagascar

Some countries, of course, will represented by more than one new archbishop (for example, Italy, Spain, USA, England). But the breadth of the geography is striking. It is also a matter for rejoicing. And it is a matter us in the USA to celebrate, as well: immigrants from these countries find their way to our shores, and we can enjoy the diversity of the world in our own land, with all the gifts the world brings from their unique cultures, languages and enthusiasm. The Church is (and we are) truly blessed!


Today is the feast of Ss Thomas More and John Fisher, martyrs of conscience under King Henry VIII in 1535.

It is worth noting that the punishment they risked was not simple beheading—they faced the penalty for treason: hanging, drawing and quartering. It is a punishment disgusting in its depravity and the pain intended to inflict; the end of the movie Braveheart gives only a shadow of an incomplete version of this execution. More’s and Fisher’s deaths were commuted to simple beheading at the last minute: More’s by the King as an act of “friendship”; Fisher’s because he was too feeble to endure anything else.

To celebrate these great men, enjoy another clip from Robert Bolt’s adaptation of his play A Man For All Seasons, with Paul Scofield as Thomas More…

Friday, June 18, 2010


Si informano i giornalisti accreditati che martedì 22 giugno 2010, alle ore 11.30, presso la Basilica di S. Paolo fuori le mura, avrà luogo una Conferenza Stampa di presentazione delle scoperte archeologiche all’interno delle catacombe romane di S. Tecla.

So says a Vatican press office release published on their web-site this morning. Translated:

Accredited journalists are informed that Tue 22 June 2010, at 11:30 am in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, there will take place a press conference on the presentation of archaeological discoveries in the Roman Catacombs of St. Tecla.

The release names those archaeologists who will present, and promises a tour afterwards. Why do I bother to write this for you? There are a couple of reasons—

First of all, I have never heard of the Catacombs of St. Tecla (nor are they listed in the most comprehensive guide to Rome that I have, the famous Blue Guide.) So my interest was piqued already.

More to the point, during the 19th century and also shortly before Pope Benedict declared the “Year of St. Paul,” diggings had been going on under the high altar at this church, built on the reputed site of St. Paul’s burial. Strong evidences have discovered, including a 1st century tomb and an inscription on marble, dating from the time of the Emperor Constantine, which reads (in English translation) "Paul, Apostle and Martyr" (see above). These are on display for the faithful, in situ under the high altar through a grate (though one cannot make a “tour” in the same way one can in the Scavi, or excavations underneath St. Peter’s, because of the nature of the underpinnings of the church). But then, no one would have suspected what could be found underneath the St. Peter’s high altar, below the “Niche of the Pallia,” during the 1940s and 1950s when the archaeological diggings were being conducted there. So this is an announcement with wonderful possibilities. So stay tuned and keep your ears and eyes open for more information, hopefully on Tue or Wed of next week.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Many of you know, I think, that I just came back from an ecumenical conference. It was held in Baltimore—at Loyola University. It was sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. Presenters included Lutherans, Catholics, a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian, men and women, ordained, consecrated religious and lay, all (of course) affiliated with university work in one way or another. The theme: The Morally Divided Body: Ethical Disagreement and the Disunity of the Church. It is, sadly, a very relevant topic for us today.

It seems to go without saying that there are deep divides between the various denominations, and indeed within some denominations as well, on ethical questions that revolve mostly around the expression of human sexuality and respect for life. The divisions produce an adversarial context that allows us to congratulate ourselves (too easily?) for being “right,” and encourages us to condemn others (again, too easily?) for disagreeing with us. This is especially true when we operate out of a mentality that is based on drawing battle-lines that divide “us” from “them.” Why can’t “they” (both sides say) see it “our” way—the right way?

In a situation such as this, it is very difficult to see what use there can be in ecumenical exercises: they must surely be exercises in futility…

But an important insight was offered by one of the presenters: “It is much easier to be with people with whom you disagree, if you have a relationship with them.”

A couple of years ago, Archbishop Rodi was approached by our Board for the Christian-Jewish Dialogue in Mobile, to ask him to speak. He was reluctant, at first: “You know, I’m not a scholar in this area.” “Archbishop,” was the reply, “it isn’t about scholarship; it’s about relationship.” It won the day for him, and he came to be with us and speak with us.

The Episcopalians are now going through a great upheaval in their denomination. But I am in relationship with many Episcopalians, especially Fr Albert Kennington. So what is my proper response to that sadness? It is to see him as a brother, a member of the family, and be sad with him for his suffering. And he returns the favor when offensive things like the recent lead article in Time appear.

When the Body is divided, we can either retreat and huddle closely to our own in self-righteousness, or we can sit together, even if it’s only to cry for our divisions—for each other’s brokenness—because we know them and their hurt. I hope we can be a parish, a Church, that chooses the second. How will we be in a position, otherwise, to wash each other’s feet?
[Just a reminder that more essays are posted in "The Pastor's Corner" on our parish's web-site:].

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I very much wanted to include a clip from The Mission in the previous post: both for the power of the "conversion/forgiveness" scene, and for the glorious music composed for the movie by Ennio Morricone. But the clips were all deleted from YouTube due to copyright disputes. So instead I have found a clip from A Man For All Seasons--the dialogue I quoted between Cardinal Wolsey (Orson Welles) and Thomas More (Paul Scofield). Enjoy as a bit of lagniappe from the previous post.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


The Mission is a profoundly religious movie, one that I chose to highlight in this Sunday’s homily for its depiction of forgiveness, reconciliation, healing & transformation. It is interesting to me that the screenplay was written by Robert Bolt, who also wrote the play A Man For All Seasons (he adapted his own play for the movie version). These are two of the most powerful of all scripts in discussion the roles of conscience and religious belief in public and private life: written by a man who was a self-professed agnostic (one who, I am sure, was very dear to our Lord’s heart).

Capt Mendoza’s rehabilitation really begins with a moment of grace, not of “works.” Forgiveness, like all expressions of love, cannot be earned—it is given freely, and must be freely received (or not).
Yet it must be validated by the change of life which is the purpose of the gift in the first place: you may be given a boat as a present, but its purpose is not to remain in dry-dock... And so (as James tells us) "faith" without "works" is dead.

All politicians who claim they believe one thing "personally" but will not let that interfere with their involvement in making public policy need to pay attention to the dialogue between More and Cardinal Wolsey in A Man For All Seasons:

Wolsey: ...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.

More: 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.

Then, in the face of the imminent slaughter of native Americans in modern-day Paraguay by the Portuguese and Spanish slave traders, the Jesuits try to decide what to do to defend them. Rodrigo (formerly a mercenary) wants to take up arms; Gabriel (the head of the Jesuit mission) wants simply to die in witness. He says:

If might is right, then there is no room for love in the world. And maybe so, Rodrigo, maybe so. But I don't have the strength to live in such a world.

These are monumentally weighty issues, and Bolt gives them appropriately weighty consideration, with no easy designations of right or wrong (at least, within the confines of the Jesuit community itself). It's the old struggle in Gethsemane--"Lord, shall we take the sword?!" "Not my will, but Thine be done."

How can we factor forgiveness into this equation? I can perhaps forgive what is done to me, but have I the right to speak the word of forgiveness on behalf of others who have not engaged me to speak? Can I require them to forgive, not having experienced the evils and suffering inflicted on them? Can I stand in condemnation of them if they are not (yet) capable of forgiving?

The rabbis have a saying that when a rabbi dies, it's because the discussion and debate on a point of Torah has reached an impasse, and a new voice is needed for the conversation. I have to believe that some such discussion was going on in heaven, and Robert Bolt's was the voice needed to clarify things. What was once said of the great 19th century British educator Thomas Arnold well applies here: "One had better have Arnold's [Bolt's] doubts than many men's certainties."

Monday, June 7, 2010


I wrote in a recent blog post that distractions can sometimes torment me during the celebration of the Eucharist. It happened in a nasty way just this past Sunday at 11:00 Mass.

In the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer a fly decided to circle around the paten and chalices and try to alight on them. As I was praying with my hands extended at that time, it had a good chance and succeeded several times (I tried desperately to brush it away, but it kept returning). How does one brush away a fly from 5 other chalices when one is holding the sixth, in the act of the Consecration?? How does one focus at that point? Answer to both questions: poorly, or not at all. And this, after a homily in which I was extolling the virtue of focus in the Eucharistic celebration! I wonder if there is any connection here with the “name” given to the chief god of the Canaanites by the Israelites. Known to those who worshipped him as “Ba`al ze ba`al,” or “Lord of lords,” the Israelites tweaked the name into “Ba`al zebub” (Beelzebub)—“lord of the flies”…

This leads me to the identification of a piece of altar linen that perhaps daily Mass goers here might see me place on the altar, and that Sunday Mass attendees would rarely see at all, if ever. It is called a pall.

It is a cloth pocket into which is inserted a piece of cardboard or plastic, to make it a stiff square. Traditionally it is placed on the chalice to prevent things (like flies) from getting inside.

Our Savior has exactly 2 palls, and I bring them out for daily Mass since I never have more than 2 chalices. In four years I have rarely needed them.

This past Sunday’s 11:00 Mass was different, sadly. Even if I’d had the 2 palls at the altar, they would have been inadequate for 6 chalices. But I am in the process of rectifying this situation. I won’t be had again by a fly, nor by its “lord,” I hope!

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I thoroughly enjoyed our recent priests’ retreat thanks to 2 retreat masters: Fr. James Kubicki, SJ from Milwaukee (also National Director of the “Apostleship of Prayer”), and my hero, John Henry Newman.

I referred in a talk recently to the farewell sermon Newman preached as he retired from his Anglican priesthood (titled “The Parting of Friends”). I wanted to read the whole thing, and happily I found a second-hand copy of the volume containing it—his Sermons on Subjects of the Day. It included a number of sermons else that I wanted to read, for a special reason.

Newman was supremely confident in his Anglican status and that of the Church of England as a whole, until 1839, when he read an article (written by a Catholic) that shook him theologically. Turning more and more toward Rome, yet fighting this tendency for himself and for others, in 1841 he wrote his famous Tract 90 as a way of justifying being of “catholic” sentiments and yet a faithful Anglican. It was roundly condemned by church leaders in Oxford, and (along with a series of other sad events) brought him to his resignation in 1843. Two years later, he entered the Catholic Church, convinced he had to, for the sake of his salvation.

He struggled mightily in those years of self-imposed exile, and I wanted to read those sermons written and preached during that time-frame to see where his mind and heart were. It was an enlightening experience during the retreat to read perhaps 20 of his sermons from this time. Ironically, I haven’t make it to “The Parting of Friends” just yet!

Where was he during this period of sustained desolation and introspection? Quoted over and over in these sermons was the Book of Ecclesiastes, chapters 9-12. I encourage you to pore over these chapters for yourself…

But this essay is also about “serendipity.” Since childhood I have been attracted to Newman; to the Sacred Heart and sufferings of Christ; to the possibility of a priestly vocation; and to the Divine Office—all because I won a prize in 4th grade that was a book (My Daily Bread, I believe was the title), with three prayer-cards as bookmarks: one on the Good Shepherd and His call to us; one on the wounds of Jesus crucified; and one containing this prayer from Newman:

May [God] support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last!

What a surprise and pleasure it was for me to discover that this was the ending of “Wisdom and Innocence,” one of the sermons I was reading on retreat!

The quote from Newman was called, on my 4th grade prayer-card, a “Morning Prayer.” And one can see in it a longing, asking God to be faithful to us throughout the day (rather like an inverse form of the “Morning Offering”). What a longing this was in Newman—begging that his spiritual struggle would be supported by God, and that it would end with safe lodging, holy rest, and peace. Only in 1879, when Pope Leo XIII made him a Cardinal, might this prayer fully have been answered. As he himself said then, “The cloud is lifted from me forever!”

By longing to read “The Parting of Friends,” I found myself discovering the renewal of a connection with an old friend. God is good all the time; God is a God of surprises; the better word for “serendipity” is “grace.”


Today’s Solemnity (in most of the world moved from its traditional date of the Thursday after Trinity Sunday to this, the following Sunday) is a celebration of what we as Catholics hold most central and dear to our liturgical spirituality: the Eucharist.

The readings for Cycles A, B and C offer special Scriptural launching pads for our prayer on this day:

From Cycle A, we are reminded that we do not live on bread alone; that God feeds us with the finest wheat; that the blessing cup and the loaf are not only a participation in the Blood and Body of Christ but are intended to bring us into unity; that Jesus is the Bread of Life.

Cycle B teaches us about the blood of the original covenant at Sinai; it celebrates the ‘cup of salvation’ offered at the Passover commemoration of Exodus and Covenant; it reminds us of the high priesthood of Jesus; it makes explicit the connection of the Last Supper with the Passover.

Cycle C (this year’s readings) present us with the bread and wine of Melchizedek’s thank-offering to Abram; the tie-in with Melchizedek’s eternal priesthood; the institution of the Eucharist as St Paul presents it; and the foreshadowing of it through the multiplication of loaves for the thousands gathered to feast also on the Word.

Any one of these readings, much less all of them, could be the stuff of a good, sustained prayer of thankfulness for this Sacrament (which after all is named from the Greek word which gives us ‘thanksgiving’).

As a priest I must honestly admit that sometimes distractions afflict me in the course of the celebration of the Eucharist. I must also admit that there, at the altars of Word and Sacrament, I feel most ‘at home’ in my ordained ministry. Distractions, yes; boredom, no; not in 20 years of priestly life. I have only gratitude to God for so many gifts, including the gift of peace in my heart for my vocation (even when challenged and stressed out by daily circumstances).

It needs to be stated, too, that the Body to be “discerned” (I Corinthians 11:29—just past the excerpt selected for today’s 2nd reading) is not only the sacramental Body of Christ but also the Mystical Body, of which we are the members under His Headship. How do we live the Eucharist, beyond attending (hopefully, truly celebrating) church on Sunday?

If Jesus promises to be with us always (Matthew 28:16-20), He also says He will be found in the least of our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25:31-46). Are we ready to “worship” inside and outside the church?

As a prayerful bonus, I am adding below a setting of Panis Angelicus, and a less familiar setting of Ave, Verum Corpus, by Gabriel Faure, to celebrate the day. Enjoy, and blessed discerning of the Body to us all!