Saturday, October 23, 2010


The proof which comes home to my own mind that God is good, is His dealings with myself. This proof any man can have—for it is a personal proof. Nothing can get rid of it, and it grows the more it is cultivated.”

This is an insight from John Henry Newman, in a letter written sometime before his 75th birthday (and before Pope Leo XIII made him “Cardinal Newman”). It is instructive for us, it seems to me.

When I engage in spiritual direction with another person, I typically encourage records-keeping for the sake of seeing, perhaps six months “down the road,” the path traveled and the point of departure. When we review our lives “in retrospect” like this, we can more easily determine patterns and blessings that otherwise would have passed by unnoticed.

The phrase “Count your blessings” sounds trivial, yet it is a fundamental insight of what St Ignatius Loyola’s Jesuits refer to as “consciousness examen.” It means taking the time to see where God in Christ was acting or present in your life and giving thanks for it, even when those times were not acknowledged or even recognized. In our weekly review of life in the Cursillo method of discipleship, we also try to discern a “close moment” when Christ was most vividly present in a situation.

Where can you see God’s dealings in your life? Even painful times may well be times in which what is really happening is the “pruning” which is intended to give more growth (John 15:1-2). Ignatius reminds us that a “consolation” is whatever draws us closer to God (even if it is painful or undesirable at the time).

God is good—what is your “personal proof” of this? Remember that it may be months down the line before the trajectory of your travel can be clearly discerned. Meanwhile, let's take to heart the words of Ecclesiastes 9:7-10). And (as Sr Thea Bowman used to say) let's "Keep on keepin’ on!"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


This October 26 would have been my Dad’s 89th birthday. When I was in seminary in Rome I always went on this day to pray for him in San Paolo fuori le Mura (St Paul’s Outside the Walls). Why?

Partly, I think, it’s the answer to the question: “Do you want your child educated in a Catholic HS, or in a private, high-powered prep school?” In my case, the answer was the latter—which happened, also, to be the former: I went to St Ignatius HS in Chicago, the best school in the City. My Dad was extremely insistent that I go there.

St Ignatius and his companions spent an all-night vigil in a chapel in St Paul’s in Rome, and the following morning took the vows that formed the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. I think this is my connection with that church with my Dad.

I will never forget the last time I was able to be there on his birthday. At the doors was a gypsy woman with a toddler and an infant. She was, of course, begging. And normally I flee from the gypsies for their (earned) reputation as thieves. Those following the news know that the gypsies (aka, “Roma”) are being expelled from France, for example, pretty well for this reason.

This time I promised her I’d see her when I came out of the church. And I did. And I did something I’d never done before (nor, I think, ever since)—I sat down and talked with her. I played with the toddler (perhaps 2-3 years old). And I gave her money. She asked for more; I told her (honestly) that was all I had (other than bus tickets). And this time, I didn’t give alms to a beggar—I encountered another human being (and Christ, along the way). I am convinced it was my Dad looking out for me that led me that day to use the eyes of the heart instead of only the eyes of the body.

My Mom taught me a similar lesson years later with a homeless Vietnam vet at an interstate exit in Chicago (Damen and I-55, if you know the City)… And my cousin Tim taught me the same lesson some weeks ago (interestingly, at the same exit).

I am heading to Rome next week—I may not make it to St Paul’s on 10-26, but I’ll be there one day, one way or another. What will I see? What will I do?

Mom, Dad: pray for me: make me stronger; make me better.

Friday, October 15, 2010


The Cloud of Unknowing is one of the great classics of mediaeval mystical writing, penned by an anonymous English writer of the 14th century (roughly the same time as other great spiritual writers whose names we know: Mother Julian of Norwich, Walter Hilton, Richard Rolle. While Mother Julian, for example, wrote of her experiences with what can be called “direct contact” with the Lord, the author of The Cloud takes a different approach—one hinted at by the title of the work.

This book is a description of what is known as apophatic, or the Via Negativa. It focuses on the distance between Creator and creature and the inability of the latter ever truly to comprehend God—thence the sense of “unknowing” that is the path to God.

A recent day’s meditation in the prayer-guide Magnificat was an excerpt from this great work. In part it said:
With all due reverence for God’s gifts, it is my opinion that we should be quite careless of [not pre-occupied about] all delights and consolations of sense or spirit… If they come, welcome them but do not rest in them… [Otherwise] you may begin to love God on their account and not for himself….
Some people experience a measure of consolation almost always while others only rarely…. Some people are so spiritually fragile and delicate that unless they were always strengthened with a little sensible consolation, they might be unable to endure… Yet there are others so spiritually virile that they find…such spiritual nourishment within that need little other comfort.

I could not help but think of Bl Mother Teresa of Calcutta when reading this passage, and all the darkness of the last decades of her life—the lack of spiritual consolation she endured.
And yet the basic prayer she never ceased teaching her novices was “Jesus in my heart, I believe in your tender love for me. I love you.” Not a word in this prayer is about feelings or “consolations”—only the choice to trust and love.

Today’s feast is that of another great Teresa who knew the “dark night”—Teresa of Avila. She also went years without a spiritual consolation and yet never lost focus: she knew (even without feeling it) Who it was she loved, and by Whom she was loved.

How will our prayer progress today? Will we renew the choice to love, and be convinced of being loved, even if the feelings aren’t there? Is this a description of our love in friendships or marriages, as well? We can do far worse, today, than make Bl Mother Teresa's prayer our own.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I strongly urge all to check out the blog by Rocco Palmo, "Whispers in the Loggia" (also at for today's post on Blessed Pope John XXIII, whose feast is today (the anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council). The feature that is posted there (after the video and text of the "Discorso della Luna") is a joy to watch.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Today’s Mobile Press-Register had an op-ed piece by Doug Gansler about the case (currently before the Supreme Court) of Snyder v Phelps, in which a local congregation chose to picket (and violently and vulgarly attack the family of) a funeral—the young man was a soldier killed in Iraq. The congregation (basically consisting of a single family of about 50) has decided these deaths are God’s punishment on America for tolerating homosexuality. Let’s explore all these ideas.

First of all, on what ground would this congregation decide that only military deaths are “God’s punishment”? Why would they not equally demonstrate at every other funeral in our country? There is a dimension of selectivity here that is at least biased.

Second, on what basis can the Phelps family decide (in law, at least) that they are a “church”? Does the government grant protection for any group that decides to refer to itself as a religious body? Unfortunately, this is the historical reality of Protestantism in general: when a divisive issue surfaces, groups splinter and form new “congregations.” It is the reason we have the number of Protestant denominations that we do: everyone seems to be “protesting” against someone or something.

Third, is there any basis for thinking that by simply refusing to allow such protests (designed to offend) that anyone’s 1st amendment right of free speech is impeded? I doubt it—these people are completely free to preach whatever they choose within their own church. No one is knocking at their door with warrants for their arrest.

Fourth, under what rubric is hate-language to be protected? We Catholics have forcibly rejected the anti-Holocaust remarks of the schismatic bishop Williamson; are we to be regarded therefore as intolerant of freedom of religious expression? I doubt it.

Finally, most Americans understand the letters RIP (even if they are not Catholic)—they mark tombstones all over our country. They are an abbreviation of the Latin phrase Requiescat in pace, or “May he/she rest in peace.” Implicitly we recognize this as a right; surely we must also recognize as a right the ability of a family to bring a loved one in peace to his or her place of rest.

Even to discuss this issue is more than disappointing—it is part and parcel of the bitterness and anger that characterizes Terry Jones and his desire to burn copies of the Qur’an. The Supreme Court has a vested interest in insuring the domestic tranquility and protecting the general welfare of the nation (as the Constitution’s Preamble states). Small-minded people who insist on shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre do not deserve protection under the law; those in the theatre do.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I spoke this morning in the homily (especially the one primarily aimed at our young people being formally enrolled as candidates for the Sacrament of Confirmation) about wanting to be pro-life in its fullest dimensions. I mentioned that I wanted less to condemn the “Culture of Death” and more affirm the “Gospel of Life.” What do I mean by “fullest dimensions”?

I want to affirm the fundamental dignity of the human person in ALL aspects of our existence: I want to celebrate and support and defend unborn babies and infants, children and teens and young adults and mature adults, parents and grandparents. I want to affirm those in ICU units or in nursing homes, in prisons (even on death row) or in war zones (even those we consider the “enemy”). I want to embrace those that are physically or mentally or emotionally challenged; I want to say YES to them all—we are ALL children of God, ALL brothers and sisters (even when we behave like cats and dogs with each other).

But along with life itself, I want to celebrate and affirm those human activities that are life-giving in and of themselves: literature and music, art and architecture, good food and good drink, generosity of spirit in energy and finances. I want to enjoy the blessings of forgiveness and friendship and love, of prayer and adoration, of praise and worship. In short, even though mixed in with sin, I want to say YES to all that can be found within the Church and its long history. There is much to be grateful for here, and to rejoice in (as well as to repent of, it is true).

To enjoy all of this is, for me, truly to be pro-LIFE. It means presenting a vision that attracts to Truth/Beauty/Good rather than condemns those we think are too far away. I want to be part of doing what Mother Teresa called "something beautiful for God." Surely to celebrate life means to be joyful people are attractive to others.

Who wants to be pro-LIFE with me in this way?
Enjoy this recording of the 16th century English composer Thomas Tallis' anthem "If Ye Love Me," which coincidentally was the first anthem I ever sang in the choir of my Oxford College, Oriel, during Evensong when I was a student there.