Thursday, August 26, 2010


Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bl. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta!

Will you and I pray for her canonization (like she needs it, or we need to be told it)?

Will you and I make a difference today in the life of a poor person (emotionally and spiritually poor, as well as materially)?

Will you and I pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and diaconate and religious life--especially those orders that have outreach to the poor as their special "charism"?

Today is also the commemoration of Our Lady of Czestochowa, so we can celebrate TWO "Blessed Mothers" and pray for faithfulness in the Church. We are indeed blessed in them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Traditionally (and famously depicted in the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel), St. Bartholomew was martyred by being flayed alive—Michelangelo has him holding his skin!

But this Christmas season (aka, prime new movie holiday season) there is expected the release of #3 of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader.’ Lord knows that most Christianity has been emasculated from these movie ‘versions’ of the books, and since there is so much Christian symbolism in VDT it’ll be interesting to see how they present the original story-line without its content—especially in a pivotal scene related to today’s feast.

The new “star character” is a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb—“and he almost deserved it,” Lewis says in the opening sentence of this book. [FYI: the author was actually “Clive Staples Lewis,” so he knew the burden of a bizarre name. From age 4, he insisted on being called “Jack,” and who could blame him?]

Turned into a dragon by his greed and laziness, he undergoes a conversion of heart that leads him to encounter Aslan, the Lion who (in the books, at least) is the Christ-figure of the Narnian world. In order to heal Eustace, Aslan must “undress” the dragon—rip off all the scaly ‘clothing' and bring him back to boyhood again. It works, but only after 5-6 layers of skin have been torn away.

Both Bartholomew and Eustace experience the need to shed all the remnants of our sinful existence in order to be born again. What layers of ‘skin’ do we need to shed (or have torn from us)?

Even when this happens, though, we must remember we are still beings in process—“God isn’t finished with me yet,” as the old saying goes. Lewis is a bit more specific with Eustace:

It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of these I shall not notice. The cure had begun.

Do we want the cure to begin (or continue) in us? Are we ready/willing to persevere even when we have relapses? Can Eustace and Bartholomew inspire us with the insight that the old self, when stripped away, leaves a new and blank slate for God to draw us anew? What a joy, to see the old garbage gone! What a hope, to know that “the cure [has] begun”!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan is quoted in an interview (NYTimes online) as making the same points that I and "Rob" were making in our discussion a couple of posts ago about the proposed mosque/commuity center near the site of Ground Zero. I think the perspectives we have been sharing are "spot on," as the British would say. I will add the comments of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, that if the purpose of the center is/was to be a gesture of reconciliation and healing, perhaps the best way of showing that now would be to withdraw the proposal, at least as in its current form...

The questions have to be asked, "When is it 'long enough'? Is it still 'too soon'?" This is so difficult. An example is the music of Richard Wagner, unofficially but effectively banned for decades from being performed in Israel because of Wagner's explicit anti-Semitism and the fact his music was adopted by Hitler a couple of generations later as the national music of Nazi Germany. Everyone in the 1950s and 1960s could understand this anger. In 2000 a concert of his music was finally performed in Israel--conducted by Mendi Rodan, a Holocaust survivor. Yet there is still great opposition to such concerts. Was Mr Rodan's gesture one made "too soon"? Was 55 years "long enough"? There is still great dispute here.

And the dispute will continue in New York as well. I hope that Archbishop Dolan's "great prayer" (see the NYTimes online article) will be answered. And I'll be praying with him.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010



Spiritually close in this time of sadness for the death of your Father, Senator Francesco Cossiga, former President of the Republic of Italy, I desire to add my heartfelt condolences with the assurance of my genuine sharing in the great loss the has struck also the entire Italian nation…

I include and translate only the beginning of the telegram of condolence sent by Pope Benedict XVI to the family of former Italian President Francesco Cossiga because I want to add my own memory to a special event that actually ties in with the upcoming beatification of John Henry (Cardinal) Newman.
The great Newman scholar Fr Ian Ker was invited (I was part of the inviting team) to speak at the North American College (this was in 1991, just after the centenary of Newman’s death). As a courtesy we invited the Rectors of all the English-speaking seminaries in Rome, and since he’d actually spent a summer in Oxford with Fr Ker, we also made a token invitation to then-President Cossiga. Who knew he would accept the invitation to come?!
Shortly before the event I was summoned to the main entrance of the College (Firmum Est, as it is known) to meet a team of security; they wanted to check out the entirety of our ground floor complex and the auditorium where the event would take place. I had to be their “tour-guide” through our seminary. I was also informed that the talk could not begin when advertised, for security reasons—there would have to be a 15 minute delay. More on that, later.
It then turned out that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger heard about the lecture and because of his own great interest in Newman, he also wanted to attend. Now we had TWO major figures to take care of. They had to be seated in specially placed seats in front (emphatically not in the fixed seating of the auditorium). And I was expected to do a 15-min “tap dance” in front of perhaps 2,000 folks while the security guards’ sense of timing was observed.
I don’t know how much of Fr Ker’s talk either of them could actually follow since 1. it was on a more obscure point of Newman’s thoughts on education, and 2. he had to cram a 60 min talk into 45 min, thanks to the security requirements for President Cossiga. But finally all went off swimmingly.
My job being what it was, I had the opportunity to meet and hand-shake neither the Italian President nor the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But they seemed happy enough to be there together, and that was all that mattered.
So I have no doubts that Pope Benedict’s heart-felt condolences were utterly sincere and prompted by events like the one I have just described. May the Lord in His mercy grant him peace until the Day of joy we are promised in Him.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


The controversy over the proposed mosque near the site of the World Trade Center (not on Ground Zero, as some have suggested) is delicate, to say the least. So my thoughts are truly “light-weight,” but perhaps they will stimulate some better, more “heavy-weight” thoughts in others.

My thoughts today are going back to another, similar, controversy a couple of decades ago: the desire of the Carmelites to build a convent for cloistered nuns at the infamous death-camp Auschwitz. Again, there was a firestorm of anger. The Jewish community saw this as a provocation and unnecessary compromise of the memory of the millions of Jews exterminated at that camp. Was anything else going on?

Well, yes—one of those exterminated there was a Roman Catholic nun, a Carmelite, who was also Jewish by birth: Edith Stein, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. It is a sometimes forgotten fact that Nazis hated Catholics as well: St Maximilian Kolbe also met his death in that camp. So the desire of the Carmelites to establish a center for prayer there was not unreasonable. But Hitler himself was baptized a Catholic; was that fact a consideration in seeing the Carmelites not only as intruders but perhaps even as representatives of the Enemy?

The nature of the conflict is similar to today’s disagreement. Whose memories ought to trump others’? How should we work to achieve reconciliation? Whose prayers matter? How far away from Ground Zero does the sacred ground extend? Should there be no mosques in Manhattan?

I have no answers here. I will observe that New York’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg (himself a Jew) is strongly in favor of the project. And I observe that Rick Lazio, running for Governor of New York, thinks this must be opposed as a matter of “safety and security,” yet he also acknowledge that over 100 mosques are in New York City—so it seems that one more is scarcely a matter for safety and security, after all.
On the other hand, I observe that the Anti-Defamation League strongly opposes the location of the mosque. So what to do? I don’t really know…

How this is decided is, I believe, less important than the reasons why the decision is made. This is the problem with all of the moral life, finally: it matters not only what I do, but why I do it. Or in the words of the St Thomas Becket of T. S. Eliot’s drama Murder in the Cathedral: “The last temptation is the greatest treason/To do the right thing for the wrong reason.” I hope that at least we can have good reasons for why we do what we do.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Specifically, this “park” is St Mary’s Cemetery in the Evergreen Park neighborhood, and it is a place of exercise as well as remembrance. This morning early there were a few of us trying to hit our target heart-rate. Three were on bicycles: one was a man who was clearly a casual rider; the others were women who were more intense—racing bikes, spandex togs, helmets… and then there I was, doing my stand-up comedy imitation of power walking.

Cemeteries bring out wonderful opportunities for prayer and for reflection. The names on the tombstones reflect the ethnic variety of Chicago: Cavallini alongside Reyes alongside Kovacecic alongside Callaghan alongside Vrdoljak. These grounds (you will pardon the pun) are great levelers.

The gravestones themselves are also intriguing. Some are simple headstones, and some are more ornate, shaped like open books. Some are small monuments, and some are full-scale. Some are personal or family mausoleums. And of course there are the larger mausoleums with many burial slots.

Beyond the names and dates and family relationship, typically there is little inscribed on them. A few have Rest In Reace. A few more have My Jesus, mercy or Eternal rest grant unto them… And I just wrote a piece (two pieces, actually) based on the citation (originally on a funeral monument in a painting) Et in Arcadia ego, so my mind was already in gear to think of such things for myself. What would I want on my monument? And this is not so “rhetorical” a question as one might think—what would you want on your headstone?

On the side of one of the multiple-slot mausoleums, there is a bronze plaque that speaks of being wakened to glory. I am not so sure that’s what I want to look forward to; I think I’ll be just as happy being in the presence of the One who loves me; after that, blending into a crowd (especially a crowd around the Lord!) wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. If our hearts are restless until they rest in Him (as St Augustine wrote), then who would need anything more than that rest?

For myself, I think I would want my headstone to designate me simply “Priest,” and I would like one verse of I Corinthians 15 chiseled in: “Thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

How about you? This really isn’t morbid; after all, it’s all about our Faith.
[The headstones for my parents are actually in Resurrection Cemetery, which I'll be visiting on Sunday.]

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


While I refer to this citation for an upcoming parish bulletin front simply by observing its use in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, it’s also important to see the use of the quote by the French painter Nicolas Poussin (see above). In its own way, the painting and the citation (inscribed on the tomb) are a reflection of the words of Thomas More both in the trial scene and the final scene of A Man For All Seasons: “Death comes for us all, my lords; yes, even for kings he comes…”; “Death comes for us all, Meg; even at our births, Death does but wait a little…”

St Augustine expressed the thought in this way: “For those who know they are to die, it is clear how we ought to live.”

It’s an idea we shy away from on a regular basis until some terrible event brings the reality home to us in ways we cannot ignore.

If we knew today would be (in the words of the poet John Donne, alluded to famously by C. S. Lewis) “the world’s last night,” how differently would we live? It’s just a thought…

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I’m just wondering how much division has been caused in families, in the Church and between nations with attitudes that might be summarized by an outburst from those in authority, “Because I said so; so sit down and shut up.” To which the expected (but equally unhelpful) response from those under authority often is, “No one’s going to tell ME what to do!” This kind of “discussion” was satirized years ago on Saturday Night Live by Jane Curtin and Dan Ackroyd with the famous tag, “Jane, you ignorant slut!”

I wonder if making the 2nd statement could have been avoided by not making the 1st; I wonder if by not making the 2nd those making the 1st could be brought around.

I wonder if the bottom line is speaking the truth not in bullying or anger, not in defiance or resentment, but speaking the truth in love…

Sunday, August 1, 2010


For years now, Our Savior has been in a sister-parish relationship with San Francisco de Asis in Temascalapa, Mexico. The program is called “Keep the Children in School,” and we supply funds to buy the necessities (uniforms, shoes, eyeglasses, paper/pencils, books…) they cannot afford, and without which they would drop out of school. Some of the young people we began helping years ago when they were in elementary school are now in University. They are poised to make a positive, meaningful difference.
This “report” is actually an expansion of part of this past Sunday’s homily. I began with singing a bit of “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, but I think you’ll be better served listening to how it should really go…

It’s the reality of so many of the families of San Francisco de Asis parish (which includes the town of Temascalapa and the “satellite towns” around it) that their lives are even more “plenty o’ nuttin’” than Porgy’s. He’s got no lock on the door; neither do they, since most don’t even have a door! A piece of cloth is all that divides outside from inside, or room from room. Porgy sings that if others want, “De can steal de rug from de floor/Dat’s Okeh wid me…” But in these people’s houses, there are no rugs: at best we saw concrete poured floors; very often, simply packed dirt. Needless to say, there is no heat in these houses, and “windows” are (where they exist) pieces of clear plastic taped to the openings.

Yet there was an incredible overflow of generous love showered on us when we were there! People with nothing had open hands and open hearts, and we were both honored and humbled by their warmth and gratitude. I want to focus on our last night there, when a fiesta was held.

I was told by Elvia (one of our pilgrims) I really should sing at this event, so I was ready to do a couple of verses, a cappella, of “Pescador de Hombres.” I reckoned that I’d be singing for a group of 30-40 folks, and I was actually looking forward to it. How wrong I was in the estimation.

There were almost 200 folks in the church hall where we were gathering! Children, teens, parents, grandparents, friends: they came from every one of the towns that form a part of the parish. Some of them walked to Temascalapa, a distance of 3-4 miles, carrying food, having to walk back home afterward. It didn’t matter to them: they were coming to celebrate us three pilgrims (we all are called padrinos there!) who represented their sisters and brothers in the USA.

Every single town in the parish represented itself with a performance for us—from musical numbers played on recorders, to traditional dances in full costume, to singing (you have not lived until you have seen 4 pairs of children doing a Texas-style cowboy line dance!). But the special event was on its way: an 11-piece professional mariachi band (which had to cost the Timon, the program’s steering committee, a large amount of money). This group included 4 violins, 2 guitars, a cittarone (a large, ‘bass’ guitar), 3 trumpets and a lead singer. And this was the group, it turns, out, that I had to sing “Pescador” with! They played it (by ear, I think) in the proper key, and I had to get up to sing over all these instruments. The children especially seemed to enjoy watching me sing in their language, though with an American accent.

As the band processed out, we thought the celebration was moving into the food phase. It was, but not just then: a speech of gratitude was made to us by one of the youths now in University, and the children were lined up in front of the three of us, two by two, to offer us gifts—all hand-made, all beautiful, all tokens of thanks—along with hugs for us all. This total was between 90 and 100 children, by the way—all those in the program being helped. It was overwhelming.

The food was wonderful, and all of it was made by the families and carried by them to the fiesta. I said in my broken Spanish that I felt like the Pope (with my memories of how John Paul II used to enjoy the World Youth Days and all the varied performances young people did to honor him). The reply was that they wanted to do this because the priest had come to visit them; it was like Jesus coming to visit.

So I was in persona Christi to them—in the person of Christ. And it was true (as were Elvia and Vivian). We were standing as the hands and feet of Christ from the parish of Our Savior—we were the token visible representation of the love and generosity of Our Savior. In honoring us, they were honoring all the members of our parish whose contributions make up the funds for the project to keep these children from having to drop out of school. And we saw the parishioners of San Francisco de Asis as in persona Christi to us: brothers and sisters, remembering our Lord’s words, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me.”

There is nothing left to say except to express the fervent wish that EVERY member of Our Savior might be able to experience the joy of a visit to our sister-parish. May both our parishes continue to rely on each other’s prayers and love.