Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The newly-named archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola, is quoted in a recent blog-post as saying, in part:

…I believe that the Christian proposal is particularly relevant now, because if we read the Gospel we see it revolves around the theme of happiness and freedom. Jesus said that if you wish to be happy, come and follow me, and he who follows me will be truly free. It inserts the dynamic of truth, goodness and beauty within the horizon of happiness and freedom.
So when the Christian proposal is freed from the many things that weigh it down because of the contradictions and sins in the men and women of the church, and is re-proposed in its youthful simplicity as an encounter with a humanity made whole by Christ, then it is more relevant than ever....
Certainly, Christianity implies a doctrine and a moral teaching, but they are incarnated in the life of a person and in the life of a community. Therefore, if I practice the Christian life for what it is – ‘the good life’ which the Gospel documents and witnesses to, then I can go and dialogue with everyone....”

There is a fundamental and important truth to this statement. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a great deal of insight to understand all that comes under the phrase “the contradictions and sins in the men and women of the church.” And this is the core of the real problem (which in politics is simply labeled ‘credibility’): how does one effectively (even partially) separate the message from the messenger?

If, as Cardinal Scola states, the Christian proclamation is “incarnated in the life of a person and in the life of a community,” then the quality of the proclamation is either enhanced or damaged by the quality of that incarnation in me/you/us. Tertullian long ago in the 2nd century asserted that Christians were known for the way they loved each other. We proclaim that in a hymn from the 1960s/1970s that is still sung today. But when it is not true that we love the Lord and others, when we become known for other behaviors instead, then we become anti-evangelists and signs of contradiction of a kind unimagined by Simeon (Luke 2:34).

Perhaps this is why Bl Charles de Foucauld insisted that the best evangelization is to “cry the Gospel with one’s life.” In fact, this may be the only proper and true evangelization in today’s world (see I Peter 3:15)—be ready to speak, but wait to be asked, and live so as to encourage the asking…

Sunday, June 26, 2011


A famous episode of M*A*S*H has a young pilot talking about how wonderful the war is for him.  Roughly, as I remember it, he says,  "I fly around 45,000 feet, and it's so beautiful and peaceful up there; I drop my payload and head back to Japan, and my wife is there.  It's really great."  When Hawkeye gets him into the 4077's ER to help as an orderly, and he sees the destruction of human life (especially to a child) that bombs produce, he is deeply shaken.  And Hawkeye tells him (again, I am quoting roughly, from memory), "Look, you're a decent person; too decent to believe there's ever any such thing as a 'clean war.'"

This is a lesson we need to be reminded of, as human beings on this planet:  it is perilously easy for me to ignore nameless and faceless persons, to dismiss them by making them anonymous parts of a larger group that can be dismissed, or turning them into objects instead of brothers or sisters.  If I regard someone as "the enemy" or "a drunk" or "a gypsie" (especially in Rome) or "an illegal alien," then I am fully justified (in my mind) in ignoring or despising that person. 

Sometimes the kind of distancing we place between ourselves and others is inevitable (perhaps even necessary):  can I possibly encounter every single victim of, for example, the earthquake and tsumani in Japan, or the tornadoes in Alabama, or the flooding in North Dakota, and have true empathy with each one?  No, I cannot.  And so because of the problem of either being emotionally overwhelmed by the tragedy or the impossibility of the numbers involved, I detach.  I can turn the page of the newspaper or do another search on my computer and find something more pleasant, less problematic. 

But perhaps I can encounter one person and have that relationship change my view of the grouping he or she is supposedly a member of.  This can happen, as the story link below suggests.  When it does, there is a break-through that can lead from hatred to regard, and even (perhaps) to reconciliation and peace...

It is very easy to hate and kill "the enemy."  It is much, much harder to hate or kill "Dan" or "Mohammed" once you have met him as a person.  As the motto of our Mobile Christian-Jewish Dialogue puts it, "Hands that reach will touch."

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Our trip to Italy was one of spiritual focus as well as of sight-seeing and meals. Ours was the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist in some extraordinarily special places—

We were in the Blessed Sacrament chapel of Santa Chiara in Assisi, as well as in the upper basilica of San Francesco;
We were in the house of St Catherine of Siena;
We were in the Eucharistic miracle chapel of the Cathedral of Orvieto;
We were in an ancient church on the island of Capri and the Cathedral of Sorrento;
We were in the crypt-chapel of Monte Cassino, just below the tombs of Ss Benedict and Scholastica;
We were in special chapels in Santa Prassede, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and the crypt of St Peter’s in Rome.

These are all extremely imposing edifices, but their beauty is overshadowed by their age and tradition—from Apostolic times through the rise of monasticism to the renewal of the Church and the healing of divisions in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it is both humbling and renewing to be there and know that we can take part (active part) in this long heritage: in fact, we are called to do so.

Sharing food and drink at our regular meals was “eucharistic” in its own way, as well: after all, it was at a supper that Jesus gave us Himself in the Sacrament. This means that every meal can be for us a “sacramental,” a reminder of His total self-giving love for us. Surely that’s why grace before meals is such an important tradition (one we share, of course, with other religions—most especially our Jewish brothers and sisters).

Travel is exhausting, but it is good because it reminds us of the fact that ultimately we are all pilgrims, and our goal, our homeland, is not here (see Hebrews 13:14). Some of the “inns” we find are delightful, but they are rest-stops, not our destination. As St Augustine put it, “Sing, but continue walking.”

[NOTE:  The picture above is of the base of the obelisk in the center of the piazza in front of St Peter's in Rome.  For more images of our pilgrimage, see my Facebook page.]

Friday, June 10, 2011


Today I am taking a group of 40 folks to Italy.  The 12-day trip will include Assisi, Siena, Orvieto, Sorrento, Monte Cassino and Rome.  We'll be celebrating Eucharist in some extremely memorable and special places, we'll be enjoying Italian cuisine, and we'll be visiting important and beautiful sites all over.

The joy of being in Assisi never gets old for me--and I have been there literally over 40 times.  It has a magical "air" of peace and prayer about it that I have experienced nowhere else. 

Completely opposite to that is Rome's open-air market at the Campo de' Fiori--noisy, crowded, shoving and pushing, laughing:  chaotic Italy at its finest.

These are two of my favorite places in the universe!

Pictures will follow eventually.  Meanwhile, the image here is of a portrait almost certainly painted by someone who knew Francis--it's the oldest image of him that we have, located in a monastery in Subiaco, outside Rome.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Retreats are wonderful times for reflective prayer, and for me a great vehicle for this is the Rosary, especially in my car on the highway or during Adoration. So it was natural for me to pick up my beads during Adoration on our retreat this past week. And since they’re so new, I decided to enter into the Luminous Mysteries that Bl Pope John Paul II developed:

The Baptism of the Lord         The Wedding at Cana        
Preaching the Kingdom          The Transfiguration                 Instituting the Eucharist

I am not claiming a “unity” of all five of these under any one rubric (other than that of revelation of Christ and His mission), but a thought did come to me that I think is worth offering (and which may well wind up being a thought that many have already had).

Most every student of the New Testament knows that there is an intimate connection between the accounts of the Institution of the Eucharist and the accounts of the multiplication of loaves and fish. The same language of “take, bless/give thanks, break and give” can be found in both; the multiplication is the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels; and the long meditation on the “Bread of Life” in John 6 makes the connection explicit for the Fourth Evangelist and his community.

Most students also realize that the 120-180 gallons of wine miraculously produced by Jesus at the wedding in Cana (six stone water jars, each holding 20-30 gallons) was a sign to the disciples of Messianic presence because of the quantity: it revealed the expected abundance of the Kingdom.

For the first time, though, these signs came together for me, and I realized that the Eucharist is the fulfillment of abundance of both these signs: all the thousands fed by the five barley loaves multiplied, all the gallons of wine for the wedding—foretastes of banquet in which the abundance is that of Jesus Himself given to us. At the closing Mass for World Youth Day 2000 in the field of Tor Vergata, just outside Rome, over 2 million people were fed with the Bread of Life: an awesome event to be sure, yet small enough when considering those all over the world coming to the Sacrament on that day: every day…

It is impossible for me to think of the events of the Last Supper without being convinced that Jesus was aware of His imminent death and was confident in triumphing through it. And the Evangelists share their own conviction with us in differing ways: “Look at the wine and bread and what He did; see what He does with it now for you,” John says. “At Emmaus they recognized him in the breaking of the bread; you can too,” Luke says. “He is with us always,” Matthew says. All this is because of the power of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit can transform the doubt-filled and fear-filled disciples into the courageous preachers and martyrs we know as the Apostles, it is a small enough thing to transform the bread and wine, as well. And He does the 2nd in order to empower us to be like the 1st: people of faith.

Sr Emerita back in 3rd grade would always tell us: “It’s a mystery.” It was her answer to every theological conundrum we could pose her. And she was right all along.  Below is a recording of the anthem "O Taste and See" by Ralph Vaughn Williams for your listening pleasure.  Enoy, and happy Ascension Sunday!