Monday, April 25, 2011


Walking on the beach at Destin in twilight-night:  surf pounding (tide coming in), red and purple flags flying, sky clouding up & darkening in the SE (the direction of the gusting wind)...

"Man is the measure of all things."  Protagoras believed this; Plato challenged it.  Let anyone who thinks this simply join me in walking the beach and realize that we are not "the measure," we are not "in charge."  Let them read Psalm 93 again and glory in the One who is truly in and over and above all things...

Friday, April 22, 2011


A blessed Good Friday to all!

O God, I love thee, I love thee—

Not out of hope of heaven for me
Nor fearing not to love and be
     In the everlasting burning.
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst each thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
    Sorrows passing number,
    Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me,
     And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesu, so much in love with me?
Not for heaven’s sake; not to be
Out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst me
I do love and I will love thee;
What must I love thee, Lord, for then?
For being my kind and God. Amen.

                  --Gerard Manley Hopkins

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Below are the closing thoughts of Pope Benedict's homily at the Chrism Mass earlier today.  They are worth a bit of prayerful meditation for us all today:  what kind of Church do we want to be?  What kind of Catholic are we willing to be?  How will our discipleship, our participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, make a difference in the Church and in the world?

Christians are a priestly people for the world. Christians should make the living God visible to the world, they should bear witness to him and lead people towards him. When we speak of this task in which we share by virtue of our baptism, it is no reason to boast. It poses a question to us that makes us both joyful and anxious: are we truly God’s shrine in and for the world? Do we open up the pathway to God for others or do we rather conceal it? Have not we – the people of God – become to a large extent a people of unbelief and distance from God? Is it perhaps the case that the West, the heartlands of Christianity, are tired of their faith, bored by their history and culture, and no longer wish to know faith in Jesus Christ? We have reason to cry out at this time to God: "Do not allow us to become a ‘non-people’! Make us recognize you again! Truly, you have anointed us with your love, you have poured out your Holy Spirit upon us. Grant that the power of your Spirit may become newly effective in us, so that we may bear joyful witness to your message!

For all the shame we feel over our failings, we must not forget that today too there are radiant examples of faith, people who give hope to the world through their faith and love. When Pope John Paul II is beatified on 1 May, we shall think of him, with hearts full of thankfulness, as a great witness to God and to Jesus Christ in our day, as a man filled with the Holy Spirit. Alongside him, we think of the many people he beatified and canonized, who give us the certainty that even today God’s promise and commission do not fall on deaf ears.

I turn finally to you, dear brothers in the priestly ministry. Holy Thursday is in a special way our day. At the hour of the last Supper, the Lord instituted the new Testament priesthood. "Sanctify them in the truth" (Jn 17:17), he prayed to the Father, for the Apostles and for priests of all times. With great gratitude for the vocation and with humility for all our shortcomings, we renew at this hour our "yes" to the Lord’s call: yes, I want to be intimately united to the Lord Jesus, in self-denial, driven on by the love of Christ. Amen.

The Triduum is about to begin--the "great event of our salvation" (Preface II for Passion of the Lord) is upon us.  May this "3-Day day" be a source of growth in love and dedication for us all!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


First of all, in the interests of full disclosure (as they say)—I am remembering to write this essay because of a “little reminder” note that I wrote and put into my shirt pocket. I’m very proud of myself that I remembered to find and read the note before I put the shirt into the laundry (after that, only to wonder what I’d written on the wad of pulp that was in the pocket after taking it out of the wash!).

The 18th century literary figure Dr Samuel Johnson once said he thought people needed far less to be taught, and far more simply to be reminded. I heartily concur.

When I was reading Encountering the Mystery by the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (part of my Lenten discipline), I encountered his example of offering Night Prayer for those people he’d encountered during the day. I was so impressed that I immediately resolved to do the same—if only I could remember to lift up those people in my life that day! Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t…

Finally (last week, actually) I had the brilliant idea of putting a small piece of paper into my Breviary at Night Prayer, so I would see it. It has two words on it: “For whom?” It’s my reminder that I want this particular prayer to be a prayer for the folks I’ve had contact with during the day; this works.

We all need “little reminders” during the day to be the kind of disciple we are called to be in the risen Lord. He has actually given us a “huge reminder” of both the call and the promise with the Resurrection. It is the ultimate sacrament of redemption: the outward sign of the interior grace that it makes effective by its very nature. Perhaps that’s why Easter itself is celebrated for eight days, and why the Easter season lasts for fifty days (ten more than Lent).

“Little reminders” can be all sorts of things: another in my Breviary is the sentence “All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.” It’s from Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven, but it’s in my Mom’s handwriting, and it was the key to the homily I preached six years ago for her funeral. It will never leave my prayer book—it’s a “little reminder” to me of so much that is important and central to my spiritual life.

What do you want/need to be reminded of? During this Easter season put out “little reminders” so you’ll never forget. We’re not necessarily bad people; we’re just absent- minded sometimes. We need the help (in theology this is known as “actual grace”). Let’s allow ourselves this blessing, and let’s always remember what needs to be recalled. “Little reminders” are really a gift from the Lord!

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Looking up from the rectory patio as I prayed the Rosary, I saw the glorious sight of the planet Saturn just to the left of the almost full moon (you would notice, if you looked, that the moon’s lower left-hand area—“7:00”—is not quite complete).  Such a pity:  it’s almost Sunday.  Why does this matter?  Lacking only a few hours of being full, tonight might have been the Easter Vigil…

The calculations are complex, but the basic principle is that Easter falls on the 1st Sunday after the 1st full moon after the spring equinox.  Tonight (Saturday, April 16) is almost it.  But since it isn’t, Easter this year will be next Sunday, virtually its latest possible date.

Christians knew from the beginning that the timing of Passover was a part of the dating for Easter since the Gospels all agree that the Crucifixion took place around that time.  Soon it became a major controversy:  should Easter be dated solely on the basis of 14 Nisan, the Jewish date of Passover?  Or should it always be on a Sunday (the Lord’s Day), since Christ rose on the 1st day of the week?  The former group came to be known as “Quartodecimans,” from the Latin word for “14.”  But they did not prevail. 

Just as a side note, if you were ever wondering why Eastern Orthodox Easter differs from Western Latin (= us) Easter (which this year it does not)—it’s because we measure the full moon from different spots on the globe, and so what becomes a full moon in one place is not necessarily full yet in the other.  Amazing, isn’t it?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


What do we, as Catholics, believe about the Jews? This question probably has at least two answers: first, what many Catholics may well believe; second, what the Catholic Church teaches. Let’s concentrate on the 2nd of these and leave any discrepancies to the consciences of those who think differently.

In the last 50+ years there has been a sea-change in attitudes expressed by the Catholic Church toward the Jews, and this has been not only all to the good but also utterly necessary. It begins by recognizing the obvious: Jesus was a Jew. It continues, centrally for us this week, with the admission that “the Jews” did not kill Jesus (slanders like “Christ-killers,” used for centuries which led to ghettos and pogroms and the Nazi ‘Final Solution,’ are just that: slanderous misuse of Scripture to justify hatred). Some Jews opposed Jesus; some Romans (particularly those in authority) also did. Many Jews supported Jesus; others were more than likely indifferent. In any event, this was an occurrence of the 1st century, not the 21st.

Are the Jews saved? Insofar as they are faithful to the Abrahamic covenant, then yes. St Paul tells us this (people need to read Romans 9-11 very carefully). Vatican II (in the document Nostra Aetate, paragraph 4) does so, as well. And the writings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI confirm this. Will there be a great reconciliation in the messianic kingdom? Yes. But it is God’s place to achieve this, and so Catholics do not attempt to convert Jews, except in the sense of Bl Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who said: “Yes, I want to convert you: I convert a Jew to be a better Jew, I convert a Hindu to be a better Hindu, I convert a Muslim to be a better Muslim…”

A good word from the early preaching of the Church should help us here: Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did; but God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand…that his Messiah should suffer (Acts 3:17-18). St Paul again confirms this: …we speak of God’s wisdom…which none of the rulers of this age knew; for if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory (I Corinthians 2:7-8).

So let’s be completely clear: the passages in the Passion (especially in Matthew and John, which are ours for this liturgical year) in which there are cries for Jesus’ death cannot be applied to all Jews of that time, much less of today. It is no accident that those words will be proclaimed liturgically by the mouths of the Catholics at Mass on Palm Sunday and Good Friday: it is our sins for which Christ died.

So find your Jewish friends this week (in which they are celebrating Passover), and wish them “Good Pesach!” They are our elder brothers and sisters, and if Abraham is our father in faith (Eucharistic Prayer #1), it is from him that we (spiritually) and they (physically) both claim descent. May God bless us all this great week, and bring us all into the Kingdom. To modify the final cheer of the Seder slightly:  Next year, together, in the New Jerusalem!!

[Footnote:  the illustration above is of Marc Chagall's "White Crucifixion," housed in the Art Institute of Chicago, and one of most important works of religious-themed art in the 20th century.]

Sunday, April 10, 2011


It’s a scary kind of thing for me, to see myself on our parish’s website engaged in the daily Mass Liturgy of the Word, or in Bible study sessions, or our Lenten Stations of the Cross. But that is exactly what I can do, now that these things are being posted. We haven’t yet brought up a full Sunday Eucharist, but that’s also coming.

What’s the prime motivation for this? From the point of view of the person most responsible for this A/V project, it is to give our home-bound folks who have a computer some access to their own parish—so that they can feel a little bit more a part of the life of Our Savior even when they cannot get to church.

There is a secondary motivation, as well: by placing these moments from daily Mass also on YouTube, we hope that a word will get out to a broader audience than the 40-50 people who can make it to 8:30 am Mass here. People these days depend more and more on things like YouTube or Facebook or blogs or Twitter; if this is where they are, then the Gospel needs to be preached there, as well as in church. This is the message of Pope Benedict in his encouragement to use all the means of social communication available to bring Jesus Christ to the world.

Should I (or any priest) feel self-conscious or embarrassed about putting myself “out there” in this way? Well, it is scary, as I said above. But if I am not willing, perhaps I should not be willing to stand at the ambo to preach to a congregation of a few hundred on Sunday, either. If we priests do one, we should be willing to do the other.

So for now this is definitely a fledgling affair. Will it grow? Will it take off? In God’s time, with God’s grace, perhaps—but at least it’s out there. Who knows who just might stumble upon it while doing a search for something else, see it, like it, and perhaps find their way back to Christ? If a cup of cold water given will not fail to receive its reward (Mark 9:41), perhaps a YouTube clip might be the same…

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Despite his beliefs about Islam, [Terry] Jones said: "We're not Koran experts." He added that, "I would not consider myself an expert on the Bible."

Luke Jones, 29, said he and his father are "common people."
"We've not studied the Koran, but we still have an opinion. We're actually not educated. We're common people," said the son, who also is a pastor at the church.

The citation above can be examined in its context via the link provided.  What is astounding is the admission that ignorance is no impediment to hate-filled action.  They recognize that they do not understand what the Koran teaches, and they state they really do not even understand what the Bible teaches (though they think they are qualified to be pastors of a 'christian' denomination),  Nevertheless, they feel justified enough in their ignorance to provoke an international incident. 

Thank God I am not (nor do I wish to be) a part of the "common people" described above...

Some Christians doubt that Muslims are truly peace-loving because of the terrorists in the world.  Why should Muslims think that Christians are peace-loving when such acts of hatred are perpetrated on what they hold sacred?  No, burning a book is not the moral equivalent of blowing up oneself and perhaps 20 bystanders.  But the internal attitude of is the same. 

At the very least, if one wishes to think a religious text is a justification for intolerance, should not that person study the text to see if the prejudicial conclusion can be validated?  In the case of the Dove Outreach Center, the answer is, "Why bother?"


For those who believe in coincidences, perhaps that's what is happening to me right now:  as I am asked to prepare the Ecumenism and Inter-Faith sections of the Archdiocesan report to the Holy See (as part of Archbishop Rodi's upcoming ad limina visit), we have just enjoyed a tremendously well-received presentation by Fr Dennis McManus for our Christian-Jewish Dialogue, and Pope Benedict has just announced more concretely his plan to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's inter-faith initiative at Assisi with an encounter of his own, striving to be a pilgrim of truth and a pilgrim of peace.

This desire is in great contrast to much of the world's news--it is filled (so it seems) with accounts of others who long for self instead of (sometimes in spite of) truth, and violence instead of peace.

From a Christian perspective, what is truth (no, I am not lampooning Pilate's famous question)?  It is that which sets us free (John 8:32)--specifically, free from sin (v. 34-36).  "Sin," for my purposes here, is that which places a person in a context of fundamental alienation:  from God, others, and self.  Truth, then, releases me from this alienation and allows me to live in right relationship with God and others, secure in the self-knowledge that I am first and foremost a child of God, that I am a brother or sister to others, that I am redeemed because I am loved.

How could a person in such a state of healing not also be a person of peace?  It depends on what I mean be "peace."  Peace, then, also needs to be described, and the best word to turn to for this is the Hebrew word shalom, embracing within its meaning the ideas of safety/security, well-being, sufficiency...  Persons of peace are content with what/whom/where they are; they are also willing to allow others to be what/whom/where they are (always predicated on the notion that this state of peace will be mutual).

How can I live in peace with others if there is a different vision of truth in them?  It's not too hard, if we would only be willing all to agree that the goal of truth is love:  of God's love for us, and of our love of God (and one another) in return...  Truth becomes the mode of coming to understand the reality, the centrality, of love. 

Is it any wonder that the Johannine writings in the New Testment are filled with the interplay of truth, peace and love?  In them we learn:
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life... (Jn 14:6)
I will give you another Advocate, to be with you always, the Spirit of truth... (Jn 14:16)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you (Jn 14:27; see also Jn 20:19-21, 26)
In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us... (I Jn 4:10)

If we cannot journey to Assisi the end of October, we can at least be pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace; pilgrims of love in our own places.    Below, to celebrate this desire, a performance of Thomas Tallis' "If Ye Love Me" by the Tallis Scholars.  Enjoy--and let's walk together.