Monday, November 29, 2010


Folks who check out my Facebook page will know that we had a real scare at 11:00 Mass this past Sunday--a man who was having (to all intents and purposes) a heart attack in the middle of Mass. We all paused; 911 was called; a doctor and two nurses (from the congregation) went to assist; I got the oils and administered the Sacrament of the Sick--ultimately, all was well after a visit to the ER and a series of tests.

But my point in writing here is to celebrate the faith, hope and love of the parishioners of Our Savior at that Mass: they all went to their knees while we were attending to the man, and they began to pray the Rosary for him and his wife.

This was pretty well spontaneous, though I believe our music minister took the lead at the podium with the prayers. Whether or not, this was a magnificent expression of everything good that as Christians we stand for: prayerful solidarity with those who are suffering.

Praise the Lord, and thanks be to God!!


This item below was posted this morning on the Vatican's website (original language, Italian, of course):


In the context of the exchange of Delegations for the respective feasts of the Patronal Saints, 29 June at Rome for the celebration of Ss Peter and Paul and 30 November at Istanbul for the celebration of St Andrew, Cardinal Kurt Koch this year leads the Delegation of the Holy See for the Feast of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is accompanied by Bp Brian Farrell, secretary of the Council, and Rev Andrea Pelmieri, official for the Oriental [Eastern] department of the same Council. At Istanbul, the delegation will be joined by the Apostolic Nuncio to Turkey, Abp Antonio Lucibello.

Visits like these are the least we can do, as Sister-Churches, and there is hope we will be able to do more and more. Certainly that is the hope here in Mobile between myself and Fr Elias, the pastor of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.

What is, to me, of more than symbolic significance is the fact that these two patronal feast days are celebrations of brothers. Both died for our Lord, and both according to tradition were martyred strangely by crucifixion (Peter upside down; Andrew on a X-shaped cross). It was Andrew (in John's Gospel) who brought Simon Peter to Jesus in the first place. How much more should we be willing to live together in Him, when they were gladly willing to die for Him?

May the Holy Spirit bless us soon with the surprising gift of break-through to unity, and may we be open to embracing this gift. Though it is actually the motto of our Christian-Jewish Dialogue here in Mobile, the sentiment still fits here: "Hands that reach will touch."

Friday, November 26, 2010


What a traumatic story to read the day after Thanksgiving, that a Christian woman is accused of blasphemy and is sentenced to death in Pakistan. And yet, unfortunately, there is really no surprise in it. Ultra-conservative Muslims are sensitive (hyper-sensitive?) to any affront to The Prophet, as we already know from the outrage felt with the publication of The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, or the editorial cartoon in Denmark more recently.

It is a strange charge, though, to accuse a person of 'blasphemy' when (at least in Christian and Jewish circles) this word specifically refers to insults offered to God. The Prophet most emphatically is not divine in Muslim eyes, though in fact specially chosen. Or have I just also 'blasphemed'? I don't know...

The newspaper article implies that the woman's blasphemy was her resistance to pressure that she convert to Islam. On that score, I certainly would also be guilty, by saying the simple word "No."

Needless to say, this kind of law and its application raise the question, again, of the relationship between truth, freedom and charity which has been a hallmark of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI. Recently, too, the Pope spoke out against the forced episcopal ordination of a government-selected bishop in China.

What we have witnessed in the past, and what we are witnessing in the case of this Christian Pakistani woman, is the hijacking of theocracy by extremists who seem dedicated to their own views to the extent of utter contempt and hatred for any and all who differ. This is more than disappointing--it is terrifying. How does one reason with people who reject rational discourse in the name of the conviction that "God is on our side--only!"?

Will her death sentence actually be carried out? Will she be a martyr for our Lord? We do not know the answer to the first question. But the answer to the second is easy: she already is a "martyr," a witness, for His sake who told us only this past Wednesay in the Gospel for Mass: "They will seize and persecute you...they will put some of you to death. You will be hated...but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives" (Lk 21:12-19). May God strengthen the resolve of this woman, and may God soften and anger and hatred of her enemies, and may God send the touch of reason and not resentment to this situation.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


We have so much to be thankful for, whether it be health, or security, or family, or a hundred other blessings. But there is one other blessing we should not forget, and it is for this blessing I am offering the musical excerpt from Messiah below. Blessed day to us all!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


C. S. Lewis once wrote (he actually spoke it first, in fact) about Christian marriage in what became Mere Christianity (originally a series of BBC radio talks). He was discussing couples who wanted a church wedding without taking seriously the values to which such a public profession would commit them. He wrote:

...someone may reply that [they] regarded the promise made in church as a mere formality and never intended to keep it....Most often, I think, the couple (or one of them) hoped to deceive the public. They wanted the respectability that is attached to marriage without intending to pay the price: that is, they were imposters....If they are still contented cheats, I have nothing to say to them: would would urge the high and hard duty of chastity on the people who have not yet wished to be merely honest? ...If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they live together unmarried... But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury.

This is is the logic that illuminates the recently publicized quotes of Pope Benedict XVI with regard to condoms and male prostitutes (who potentially are carrying the HIV/AIDS virus)--it's a "first step" in responsibility, as he put it. It is scarcely "the high and hard duty of chastity," but it is the beginning of being "merely honest." People must walk before they can run, after all.

This is not exactly the kind of statement that should justify all kinds of clamor about how the Vatican is "caving in" on its teaching on sexuality and contraception. After all, it is of no comfort to me if the one semi-justified use of a form of contraception is in fact to be found in the context of being a male prostitute! We need to avoid being carried away: on this logic, physical violence in defense of self or others would lead to the "slippery slope" of validating gang shootings. I don't think so.

What is of relevance in all of this is the overall outlook we have as human beings on issues of respect for all life. I say this having just watched "Karol: the man who would be Pope" on EWTN. What kind of radical defense of the defenseless (including those in the womb) would you be willing to make, if you had lived through the horrors of the "final solution" first-hand?

If I can see that in some cases I might tolerate what is called "the lesser of two evils," I should never be tricked into thinking that somehow what I tolerate is in fact anything other than "evil." It is not a good; it is not a virtue; it is not honorable to choose it except in the context of a greater and immiment evil.

Let's be careful. Let's respect human dignity (all too quickly and easily dismissed in the case of those we do not like or with whom we disagree). There is only one "Final Solution"--it is love.

Friday, November 19, 2010


For more than 10 years now, both at St Bede and here at Our Savior, I have been leading a prayer-vigil/Eucharistic Adoration the evening of 31 December in advance of the World Day of Prayer for Peace, 1 January. Begun by Pope Paul VI, our world desperately needs all the help it can get in seeking paths we can walk together in harmony. Famously, Pope Paul titled one of his earliest messages If you want peace, work for justice.”

This coming year’s theme from Pope Benedict is “Religious freedom, the path to peace.” And as usual there will be a vigil this 31 December at Our Savior. We mix times of silent adoration, excerpts from the Pope’s message (yet to be published at this point), Scripture and hymns. It allows us to focus with the Holy Father on the desperate need people throughout the world have to be people of faith in the authentic freedom of their conscience (where God calls them), without coercion from any outside source. The Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignatatis Humanae, championed by theologians like Rev John Courtney Murray, SJ (and found to be so distasteful by the schismatic Society of St Pius X) was also championed by then-archbishop Karol Wojtyla, who knew first-hand about the kind of oppression Catholics were suffering for the Faith in his home country of Poland.

Today, our hearts and prayers and thoughts go out in particular to the Catholic and Orthodox Christians of Iraq and the Holy Land, caught in the crossfire either of Sunni/Shiite or Muslim/Israeli conflicts.

But we don’t have to wait for 31 December to pray and fast for peace. We may think we cannot effect religious freedom in the world; we may believe we cannot achieve justice for others on the global scale we need. But we can make more of a difference than we think, and if our prayer makes us more welcoming of the stranger and more eager to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8), we can begin to make a difference. As Gandhi put it, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Monday, November 15, 2010


How can unity be achieved between the Orthodox East and the Latin West? The Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue for North America has made a proposal for exactly this. It's a document that is only 5 pages long, yet it is a splendid summary of where we are in dialogue, East/West, and where we can go. It can be found on the web-site of the USCCB.

I am excited about the possibility of having dialogue on this topic in the near future, and I am excited about the prospects of taking significant steps to reunion, even if the final and perfect end is not in my own lifetime.

Prayer and study together, along with fellowship, are keys to eliminating the barriers that have no purpose in existence other than misunderstanding and prejudice. We can avoid what former Vatican ecumenical head Cardinal Cassidy called "the dialogue of the deaf"; we might actually, authentically listen to one another. Once those pseudo-barriers are gone, we can discuss properly the remaining issues of substance.

On every level this is good news. It is another step in the process begun in such earnest by Pope John Paul II in his ground-breaking encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint (1995). There is much hope for the future, thanks be to God!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


This Latin phrase actually might be loosely translated “throwaway lines.” They are not necessarily relevant to the main thrust of an argument, but they are worthwhile and interesting on their own terms.

One such statement appears in the 8 Nov 2010 issue of America, in the book review section. It is a review of the letters of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg, and reviewed by Notre Dame theology professor Michael Baxter. He writes (p. 27): “…detachment—the kind that [Rev John] Hugo urged—is acquired less by inspired resolutions, more by practicing wisdom as it is revealed in the unfolding of one’s life.”

A more pietistic and simpler version of this statement might be “Allow yourself to be the person God is making you to be.” Even more trendy a version, yet still evocative and effective, would be “Bloom where [and how] you are planted.”

In discussing vocations, I often share with young people a number of truths: our minds are about 2/3 unconscious in function; most of the unconscious has to do with memories, recalled or repressed, and most of these are about persons we loved or failed to love, or who loved or failed to love us.

Given the summary of those memories and the events within which they were shaped, I ask them to ask themselves one honest question: “Given who I am now, as a result of what has happened to me and what I have done, what my memories are, for good or bad: given all of this, how and where can I best serve you, O Lord, and be all you wish me to be?”

Another way of asking this is to co-opt a line from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and ask, “Lord, can I say YES to you as I am, where I am, how I have come to be, and do something beautiful for you as a result?”

Who doesn’t yearn to do “something beautiful for God”?

But I cannot know what that will be, for me, if I don’t accept who/what I am, brokenness and all. We all of us are called, in differing ways, to be “wounded healers,” tools in the hands of the Almighty for the benefit of our brothers and sisters, and ourselves. We are indeed saved by grace, but the Lord desires to use us in the process…

It’s a great journey: but it begins with the riskiest of all journeys—the journey inward.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


How easy it is to rattle off, in The Divine Praises, “Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man,” and never realize the struggle the early Church found itself in, trying to sort out how this could be true! How is Jesus of Nazareth also somehow divine? How is the eternal Son of God somehow an incarnate human? Beyond that, there was a common philosophical belief (also shared, to a great degree, by Christians) which said “God and matter do not mix.” What a problem for theology and for faith this was.

Leo’s famous Tomus ad Flavianum (a theological letter addressed to the Patriarch of Constantinople) was adopted by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 as the definition of how this incarnation of the God-man should be understood. It wasn’t the last word in the controversy, but it has held the line ever since as what we call “orthodoxy.” The contents of Leo’s letter are summarized by the devotional line in the first paragraph.

Leo was a politician as well as a theologian. The bas-relief images along with this blog post are from St Peter’s in Rome, created by the Baroque artist Alessandro Algardi. They show Leo in 452, confronting none other than Attila the Hun, persuading him not to sack the City. The detail shows Leo gesturing to the heavens, past the processional cross behind him, but Attila sees instead Ss Peter and Paul ready to do battle against his forces—he thinks better of his plan and (with money, it must be added) retreats.

I observed in the daily homily today that one can go to St Peter’s in Rome and see not only Algardi’s bas-relief but also the tomb of Pope Leo himself. It is the mark of a tremendous continuity of history and faith—Leo, the formulator of Catholic doctrine, the diplomat of the imperial City, the successor of Peter. Remember him the next time The Divine Praises end Eucharistic adoration and benediction.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


My homily this morning contains a synopsis of some of the most central theology of the great German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, a peritus (theological expert) at Vatican II, and who died in 1984. He was convinced that the act of faith must never be trivialized by teaching or expecting “immediate return” on prayers—especially those asking for material blessings. I wonder what he thought of sports figures attributing their victories to divine intervention, to say nothing of the now fashionable “Gospel of prosperity” that can be found on television…

His experience (like that of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI) was one of living through the horrors of World War II, the Nazis and the communists. In the face of Ha Shoah who can easily expect that faith is anything other than ‘looking into the abyss’? The Jewish Nobelist Elie Wiesel looked and saw night; Jesus from the cross looked and saw Abba-Love.

What do we see when we look? Sometimes our “faith” is simply a benign acceptance of a general sense of well-being in life. But most of us have been challenged at one time or another to take the “deeper look”—usually in the context of a death. Then we resonate far less with Joel Osteen and far more with Jesus’ “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Rahner insisted that ours is authentic faith when it still exists in the "wintry seasons" of our lives.

One person expressed it like this: “Religion is how you hold on; Faith is how you let go.”

More importantly, it was also put like this: “False religion tells you, ‘Relax and fear not; have faith and nothing bad will happen to you.’ True religion, on the other hand, tells you, ‘Have faith; all the bad things you are afraid of happening to you will probably happen. But they are nothing ultimately to be afraid of.’”

How do we let go? In whom and in what do we trust?

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Was it a mistake, a miscalculation, a disregard for the importance of the issue…? I have no idea, and surely there are facts about which I am ignorant. Nevertheless, as an “outside observer” I wish to offer a few thoughts about the “non-meeting” that occurred in Rome on 31 October.

A large number of demonstrators was expected to want to enter St Peter’s Square on this Sunday evening. Their goal was to declare a “Year of the Survivor” which would parallel the recently ended “Year of the Priest” proclaimed by Pope Benedict. In fact, the number was estimated as only between 60 and 100. A delegation was met by Fr Federico Lombardi, Pope Benedict’s Press Secretary, who delivered a personal message (his own, not the Pope’s) to the demonstrators. They had wanted to gather at St Peter’s and were prohibited by Italian police; they gathered at nearby Castel Sant’ Angelo, instead.

The organizers included 2 men who had been abused in Boston—they had both been consulted by Cardinal Law (before his resignation) and Cardinal O’Malley in the course of this scandal; one of them was among those whom Pope Benedict met during his pastoral visit to the United States in 2008. So they were not “nobodies” from anyone’s point of view. More to the point, far too many revelations of sexual abuse of minors (in countries other than the US) have come to light in the last few years. What was perhaps “good enough” in 2008 has the complexion of incompletion now.

Virtually co-extensive with this particular demonstration was a gathering of well over 100,000 Italian youth from “Catholic Action,” and they did indeed enjoy a celebration in St Peter’s Square on the day before—30 October, with the Pope presiding.

If only: if only the Holy Father had taken this opportunity to say, “Evil happened in the past to other young people; we will never allow such evil to happen again to such wonderful young people as are now gathered in this Square!” If only there could have been a bridging of past and present and future during that celebration.

It was a perfect opportunity to make the world see that the Church does in fact take its sins of omission (and commission) deadly seriously; it was a chance to live the pledge of our Act of Contrition—“I firmly intend, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.” In the “old school” this was referred to as “firm purpose of amendment.”

Some demonstrators carried signs that said “Put the Pope on trial” and “Shame!” Should these have been tolerated? Perhaps, in the sense of the Holy Father’s saying, “I allow you to accuse me in this way; I am indeed ashamed of what happened.” The words of Proverbs 15:1 ring true here: “A mild answer calms wrath…”

What if? What if things had happened differently? What if I had all the facts? Still, as one man said to John Henry Newman, “…the world is ruled by seems, not is, by words and appearances, not by things and realities; that if you once give an obnoxious name to a book or a man, no power can rescue them, no power can make them sufficient for good.” Can we at least pray that seems and is can be closer together and beg for mercy for our past without seeming to paralyze us for our future? In fact, the former may well lead to our empowerment for the future…
PS--For those who want more of the facts as they have been published, I encourage you to see Rocco Palmo's blog "Whispers in the Loggia" (from which the photo above was in fact taken).