Friday, December 31, 2010


This was the blessing offered by St Francis of Assisi to people he met:  "Peace, and good(ness) to you."  Don't we all long for this blessing more than for virtually any other in the world?

Can we find peace in the midst of suffering and sadness?  I think we can (and the illustrations in the song below show some ways in which it is possible).  This is the peace that comes from solidarity, outreach, love.  It is the gift that says "You can relax, you can be safe; it's going to be all right."  This is the promise of the Lord to Mother Julian of Norwich:  "Sin was bound to happen, but all will be well..."

1 January is the old Feast of the Circumcision (and the Gospel still reflects this fact).  Now it is celebrated as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  Her Son is also known as the Prince of Peace; He assures us (John 14:27, 20:19, 20) that he gives His peace to us "not as the world gives," but for the sake of forgiveness of sins.  Think of the peace that could come if those words were truly taken in--"I know all about it--every detail.  I forgive you because I love you."

In 1986 Pope John Paul II met with leaders of the world's religions in Assisi to pray for peace.  At one point it was thought a heretical idea--the Holy Father went forward with it anyway because it (the prayer itself, and the witness) was what the world needed to see.  At the distance of 25 years, the event now seems prophetic, but will its spirit carry us forward toward the fulfillment of that vision?  Pope Benedict's Message for the World Day for Peace 2011 says that it can and must--that peace must be built on mutual religious freedom.

This evening at Our Savior we will be holding a Holy Hour Vigil of Adoration for peace.  Would that the church might be as crowded as it was for the 5:00 pm Mass of Christmas Eve!  But for those of us who will be there, the Prince of Peace will have something to say to us:  "I love you; take courage, for I have overcome the world."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The meditation in Magnificat for December 26 (Holy Family Sunday) was excerpted from the writing of Mother Elvira Petrozzi, an Italian nun who has founded Communità Cenàcolo, dedicated to outreach to “lost and desperate” people, often drug-addicted. Interestingly, Bp Robert Baker of Birmingham was the guest on EWTN’s The Journey Home, speaking about his invitation to Mother Elvira to open such a house in his diocese: Our Lady of Joyful Hope.

The idea is an exercise (sustained) in Catholic Christian living. It is the Benedictine model of ora et labora (prayer and work) allows addicts to experience structured, devout and practical life in community, rooted in the Sacraments, the Rosary, and hands-on tasks of cleaning, repairing, building: whatever is needed so the community can thrive. People coming to such houses are there for the long haul: they commit to three years of life in the community. This produces true formation rather than a band-aid.

But more to the point for me are Mother Elvira’s thoughts in the Magnificat meditation. Hers is a vision for the addicted that is similar to that of Jean Vanier with the handicapped in his L'Arche homes. Both see as essential for truly human life the experience of community which is in fact the experience of family:

“Each of us has a desire in his heart to become a family, because only within the family can our greatest needs be expressed; a dialogue not only with words but with our feelings, our affections, our gaze, in a reciprocal gift of self and in concrete gestures of love. …It is an essential and fundamental need, natural to us, which each one of us has inside, a need to see ourselves in the gaze, smile and reception of another person.”

Mother Elvira’s thoughts continue in the direction of forming relationships that lead to Christian marriage and family, but the thoughts I have included here are more wide-reaching than spousal life and love: it is why people at her Cenacles find such a gift of freedom: freedom from, and freedom for, and openness to.

Robert Frost famously defined home as “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I would rather call it “the place where you fit in and belong and rest, and are safe.”

Home—another of my favorite 4-letter words. Home, family, community: all of what we long for in this week that began with Holy Family Sunday, goes past the Holy Innocents, and ends with the Mother of God, prayer for peace, and the Epiphany. There is no greater longing in our souls, is there?

Friday, December 24, 2010


The Day has arrived; the celebration begins--for shepherds and kings, for ox and ass, for all of us.  "In Him we see our God made visible, and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see" (Preface #1 of Christmas).  Enjoy the choral depiction of this great night.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Rocco Palmo ("Whispers in the Loggia") is publishing Gregorian chant versions of the "O Antiphons" on a daily basis; they're great, but I'm still partial to this setting from Mannheim Steamroller.  Enjoy the rest of the Advent season!

Saturday, December 18, 2010


La rievangelizzazione del mondo secolarizzato passa anche attraverso un recupero del senso del sacro”, ha osservato.
Re-evangelization of the secularized world also requires a recovery of the sense of the sacred.

“Le stesse scoperte meravigliose della scienza e della tecnica, anziché portare al disincanto, possono diventare occasioni di stupore e di esperienza del divino”.
The same wondrous discoveries of science and technology, rather than bringing a sense of disenchantment, can also become occasions of wonder and of the experience of the divine.

Allo stesso modo, nella vita umana quotidiana “non mancano occasioni in cui è possibile fare l’esperienza di un’'altra' dimensione: l’innamoramento, la nascita del primo figlio, una grande gioia”.
…everyday human life itself does not lack times when it is possible to have an experience of another dimension—falling in love, the birth of a first son, any great joy.

“Bisogna aiutare le persone ad aprire gli occhi e a ritrovare la capacità di stupirsi”, ha detto.
It is necessary to help people open their eyes and recover the ability to be amazed.

These excerpts (found on the Zenit website--my translation) are from Fr Cantalamessa’s 3rd homily for the Holy Father for the season of Advent. In playing with one of Pope Benedict’s favorite themes, that of re-evangelization of the secular world, the papal preacher emphasized the need to have eyes open to the Great Beyond (al di là, in Italian): the notion that, as Hamlet put it, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (I, v).

It is more than an awareness of the sense of the transcendent that is lacking; it is a lack of the sense of wonder in itself. Not all things can or should be reducible to particles; there needs to be a recognition that sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Theologically, we say this is especially true of the human being, but it is also true of most of creation: of a dog’s affection, or a bluebird’s domestic sense, or a sunset’s grandeur, or a rose’s uniqueness. Yes, I am referring here to Le Petit Prince, a book of central significance for awakening the sense of the “more” in life:
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Albert Einstein was quoted as saying that the greatest thing is the sense of the mysterious. Even if one were to try to break down all existence, all creation, into its particular parts, one would still be confronted with the mysterious: quantum physics shows us this. In the words of the great scientist Niels Bohr: “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory does not understand it.” The life of the micro-cosmos is so radically unexpected, unpredictable, that one wonders how we macro-cosmic types could think we can make universal laws at all.

But we do not need to enter into particle physics to be amazed—why not just enter into the deeper meaning of poetry, or love, or liturgy? William Blake wrote: “To see a world in a grain of sand/And heaven in a wild flower…” How do 2 otherwise unique (and solitary) beings see each other and ‘fall in love’? What can we make of a spiritual declaration that God is 3-in-1 or that bread becomes His Body?

These ideas seem radically ridiculous to some, yet the alternative is to believe creation (and oneself) to be the moral and effective equivalent of a rock—a being whose behaviors have no significance, no purpose, no value here or ultimately. To quote Thomas More (in Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons)—“Some men are capable of this, but I would be loath to think your Father one of them.”

Do we have yearnings, longings, in our hearts? Why stifle them? Why not see them, in Wordsworth’s phrase, as “intimations of immortality,” hints that we are made of more than material and destined for more than a grave? Even if wrong, what really has been lost, and what has been gained?

I want to embrace the notion of transcendence (which underlies the notion of transubstantiation); I want to celebrate the reality of authentic mutual love of another; I want to see a world in a grain of sand. We are the worse as individuals and as nations for saying “no” to the possibilities this vision offers us.


NEWS ITEM: Bishop Munib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation, is calling for a “common Roman Catholic-Lutheran declaration on Eucharistic hospitality” by 2017 as a way of marking (and undoing) the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. He made the remarks in Rome shortly before a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

Is such a vision a possibility or a mirage? At this distance it seems unlikely, but one can never know. After all, it is not we frail and ego-bound human beings who are in charge, but the Holy Spirit. If Vatican II could happen, if agreement (even if not 100% complete) on the theology of “Justification” could be produced, if a Palestinian-born Lutheran bishop could make this request to a German Pope…

Would such a statement require 100% agreement in all areas of faith, morals and church practice and discipline? I think not. I have two reasons for saying this.

The first is that it is clear the Catholic practice of closed communion is one of discipline and not doctrine. The (then named) Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, in their 1972 Instruction Concerning Cases When Other Christians May Be Admitted To Eucharistic Communion In The Catholic Church sets out guidelines for when such communion might occur; it even specifies circumstances when Catholics might approach the Sacrament in other communions. They are not to be considered as “regular” events, but they are in fact not impossible.

The second is that from the time of the 1983 Revised Code of Canon Law the Catholic Church recognizes the right of the Orthodox Churches, along with members of “the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church”: they are not to be refused if they present themselves for the Sacrament in a Catholic Church. Such welcome is not reciprocal at this point, but it is significant that from the Roman Catholic point of view a lack of 100% agreement even on issues like the wording of the Creed and the juridical authority of the Pope do not in themselves have to be Church-dividing.

What will happen in 2017? I have no idea, but I want to be around when it (whatever “it” is) does happen. The Book of Proverbs (29: 18, KJV) reminded us, millennia ago: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Here we have a vision. I pray we can make it possible.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Celebrating St John of the Cross is a dangerous thing: are we really ready to celebrate the life of the one who insisted that the path through the Cross to the Lord must be via a “Dark Night of the Soul”? This is the man who stressed that the only way to enlightenment is through the thicket of suffering…

John’s writing is crucial, as is that of the anonymous spiritual guide who wrote (in England, perhaps 200 years earlier) The Cloud of Unknowing. These masters of the Via Negativa (the experience of God as “absent Presence”) know that their own journey parallels that of many disciples—far more so than of the kinds of experiences that others might call “mystical”—filled with visions, revelations, consolations.

The best place to begin to gain insight into John is, I think, a small book edited by David Hazard: You Set My Spirit Free. It is billed as “A 40-day Journey in the Company of John of the Cross,” published by Bethany House. It is one of a magnificent series of books on the great spiritual masters of the centuries. Every “day” will begin with passages from Scripture, a paraphrased excerpt from John’s writings, and then a closing prayer. I highly recommend this book and this series.

John’s own experiences (well narrated in David Hazard’s introduction) were those of darkness and suffering as a way of coming to Christ. In many ways they were brutal. But he came through them, thanks be to God, and he is a great guide for us as result. He could have made his own a song by Steve Green, The Refiner’s Fire—it is a song of suffering as a road to purgation, to purification; a road that leads to “God alone.” It is a road that Pope John Paul II would have understood instinctively (his doctoral thesis in Rome’s Angelicum University was in fact on this great mystical writer)—a road that would lead to his own motto, Totus Tuus. This is a motto of surrender into the hands of a God who is at once hidden and loving Abba

I hope you will find David Hazard’s book, unless of course you are ready for the “whole enchilada” of John of the Cross’s writings. And I hope you will enjoy Steve Green’s song. And for good measure, a setting by Loreena McKennitt of St John's original poem, Dark Night of the Soul.

The Refiner's Fire
There burns a fire with sacred heat
White hot with holy flame
And all who dare pass through its blaze
Will not emerge the same
Some as bronze, and some as silver
Some as gold, then with great skill
All are hammered by their sufferings
On the anvil of His will

The Refiner's fire
Has now become my souls desire
Purged and cleansed and purified
That the Lord be glorified
He is consuming my soul
Refining me, making me whole
No matter what I may lose
I choose the Refiner's fire

I'm learning now to trust His touch
To crave the fire's embrace
For though my past with sin was etched
His mercies did erase
Each time His purging cleanses deeper
I'm not sure that I'll survive
Yet the strength in growing weaker
Keeps my hungry soul alive


Words and music by Jon Mohr and Randall Dennis
Copyright 1989 Birdwing Music/Jonathan Mark Music (admin. by Gaither copyright management)/J.R. Dennis Music. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.


All this year the calendar nearest the desk in my study has been one made by and for the Sisters of the Visitation Monastery here in Mobile. The final picture, for December, is a group photo of the sisters—a community of eight women.

Just a couple of weeks ago I received word of the death of one of the sisters at the Dominican Monastery of St Jude in Marbury. I was able to offer Mass for her repose, and I got a lovely note from the Mother Superior there, along with a memorial card.

There are two things that connect the card and the calendar for me, and they are equally important. The first is that both the Visitation Monastery and St Jude Monastery are communities of cloistered nuns: their entire life is focused on prayer, seeking God alone.
The second is the tremendous happiness that radiates from all their faces: they have found joy in their vocation, joy in our Lord.

Most of these women are about the same age—in their 80s. Sr Mary Magdalen of the Marbury Dominicans was actually born the same year as my own Mother—1925. Does it take a lifetime before one comes to see the truth of one’s vocation and love it (and be loved by it)? Perhaps it’s only at the end of a long road that one can really look back and say that whether or not it was the “road less traveled” it was the right road for me, and that the Lord’s hand was upon me even when I wasn’t aware of it or didn’t perceive it…

“Vocation” in many ways is what our hand finds to do (to refer to Ecclesiastes 9:10)—will we “do it with our might” for God’s glory and the advancement of the Kingdom? We might be cloistered nuns, or diocesan priests; we might be single-parents or ministering to spouses with Alzheimer’s or cancer; we might be young adults in college or starting a first real job. The key is always the answer to the question “Given all that I am, given who and what I am, how can I take this package of personhood and give God the glory with it today?” No answer will produce the kind of joy and happiness of the sisters here in Mobile or in Marbury other than that that particular calling was truly their calling.

And to know what is your—or my—calling, requires listening to the whispers of the Spirit within. When heart’s deepest inclinations resonate with outward choices, then one finds peace; one finds one’s vocation.

May we all live and die in the Lord with the joy of these cloistered sisters!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


In honor of today's/tomorrow's Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (our nation's and our Archdiocese's patronal feast day, as well as the patronal feast day of my seminary, the North American College in Rome), I offer this setting of the Gospel for the Mass (and which we are singing this year as our Communion Hymn)... Enjoy, and remember that in terms of enthusiasm our December 8 is "only a shadow" of what will be going on in so much of the Americas on December 12.


It may strike some as fatalistic, but the text of this movement of Johannes Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem [A German Requiem] is actually that of the 1st reading for Mass this morning (Tuesday, 2nd Week of Advent)--"All flesh is grass..."

For Isaiah, the contrast is the temporal nature of our life as opposed to the eternal reality of God. How small we are! And yet, as Is 40:1-11 is yoked in the liturgy to Matt 18:10-14, we see that even grass-like (human) flesh is worthy of being loved, of being pursued, by our Maker/Savior/Sanctifier. Why would God bother? What benefit would there possibly be to the Divine Majesty by our redemption, or loss by our perdition?

Those questions are not answered; instead, we are assured that even at the risk of losing the rest of the 99, God wants to seek and save US, the 1 lost sheep. "Wants to" must, in the context, be translated as "loves us so much that He chooses to." This is our God...

So enjoy the excerpt below from Brahms' great work, and may the love of the Lord be with us!

Friday, December 3, 2010


It is Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights. The special 8-branch menorah is lit in homes, one candle at a time, for the eight days of the celebration--commemorating the re-dedication of the Temple by Judas Maccabaeus and his followers after its desecration by the Seleucid Greeks who tried to force the Jews (even by torture and executions) to give up their faith and practices and become (if I may put it this way) secularized and modern. The story is told in the Books of Maccabees (for some, found in the "apocrypha" or "deutero-canonical" section of their Bibles).

In the month of December, when nights rush toward the winter solstice getting longer and longer, we Christians also celebrate our own "festival of lights," our 4-candle Advent wreath. It is our marking of the time of waiting and expectation for the arrival of the One who will bring justice and peace, forgiveness and healing, to our hearts and to the world.

Whether we look back to the events of the 2nd century BCE to Judas and his followers, or to the birth of Jesus, we look to one whom we long for as our savior. And we also know that if we are to be children of the light, we must stand in solidarity with the light--the light of menorah and the wreath. For both Jews and Christians, the words of the Fourth Gospel are true and important: 'The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it."

In the spirit of this season, I offer below a clip from "Peter, Paul & Mary: A Holiday Celebration." Enjoy, and let's commit to keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Can you imagine a situation, a dinner party, where all the diabetics are eating baskets full of Sister Schubert dinner rolls; all the cardiac care people are putting down 2# Ruth's Chris T-bone steaks; all the alcoholics are drinking bottles of really good wine; all the overweight folks are enjoying hot fudge sundaes--and it's all OK?

Even further--the present bite is as wonderful as the first, and no bite sates you to the point of feeling over-stuffed...

In a way, that is the vision of Isaiah in today's first reading for Mass. It all works because in fact there are NO diabetics, alcoholics, obese or cardiac people: all are healed, and all are joyously celebrating at the heavenly wedding feast of the Lamb.

Jesus in the Gospel for today is the image of this: on a mountain He heals those afflicted with ailments and then provides a meal of loaves and fish for the crowds. He offers the double sign of outer healing and satisfying of hunger--pointing to the spiritual healing of forgiveness and the spiritual nourishment of His own self, given and poured out for us; we celebrate both every time we partake in the Eucharist.