Saturday, December 22, 2012


Item from the Vatican’s news service:


Vatican City, 22 December 2012 (VIS) - Given below is the communiqué released this morning by the Secretariat of State:
"This morning the Holy Father Benedict XVI visited Paolo Gabriele in prison in order to confirm his forgiveness and communicate in person his decision to grant Mr Gabriele's request for pardon, thereby remitting the sentence passed against the latter. This constitutes a paternal gesture towards a person with whom the Pope shared a relationship of daily familiarity for many years.
"Mr Gabriele was subsequently released from prison and has returned home. Since he cannot resume his previous occupation or continue to live in Vatican City, the Holy See, trusting in his sincere repentance, wishes to offer him the possibility of returning to a serene family life".

What would you or I do in such a case?  Ignoring the (perhaps self-serving) expectations of the media and the world as to what the Pope (any pope) should do, how easy do we think it was for him to offer pardon to his trusted former butler?

Of course, we have the precedent of Pope John Paul II’s pardon of his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca.  And yet, it strikes me that that forgiveness would actually be easier to offer than pardon for Paolo Gabriele.

He was, after all, a trusted member of the papal household, whereas Ali Agca was a complete stranger and putative enemy.  And there was nothing “personal” in the shooting—not in the same way that Mr Gabriele’s actions were:  leaking what was basically the pope’s and the Curia’s “dirty laundry” in public.  There was embarrassment and humiliation involved in this scandal that was not a part of the assassination attempt.

What documents do I have, or do you have, or recordings of conversations, or Facebook posts, or text messages, or e-mails, that would bring at the very least a deep sense of mortification to us?  This is at least in part what happened with “Vatileaks.” 

Like Pope John Paul II before him, Pope Benedict did not forgive in the sense of saying Mr Gabriele did not do anything wrong, nor did he suggest the former butler should have his job back (no one would have wanted to see the Pope give Ali Agca the gun back and insist he be released from prison, either).  But he did remit the punishment that was due to the crime (rather like an indulgence, after all, especially when I word the pope’s actions as I did). 

It is a good lesson in these last days before Christmas—is there someone in our lives that it would be good also to forgive?  Is there someone from whom it would be good for us to receive forgiveness?  If the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace means anything, it means the advent of forgiveness of sins.  Are we ready?

Monday, December 17, 2012


Here is my take on the evil of the killings at Sandy Hook School, from this past weekend's homily. You can fast-forward to about 15 minutes in...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


This past Sunday our General Intercessions (aka, “Prayers of the Faithful”) included a petition for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew—why?  There was a hint (obscure enough) at the end of those prayers, when we asked the intercession of “Mary, Mother of Christ our King, St Andrew and all the saints in light.”  Yes, it has to do with Friday’s Feast.

In recent decades, thanks be to God, there have been exchanges of delegations between Rome and Constantinople (Istanbul) to recognize each other’s major patrons.  So the Eastern Orthodox journey to Rome for Saints Peter and Paul (29 June), and the Vatican sends its representatives to the East for:  the Feast of St Andrew (30 November).   It is a good-will gesture that has its roots in the fraternal embrace of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, back in 1967—at which they agreed to drop the mutual bans of excommunication that were formally in place since 1054.  We still do not share the Eucharist together; we do not always like or trust each other; but we are able to celebrate with and pray for each other.  It’s a start.

As it turns out, it would take a VERY high authority to insert Pope Benedict’s name (or even Patriarch Bartholomew’s name) into the “Eucharistic Prayer” of the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox; and I as a priest don’t have the authority to return the favor, either.  But I can (and did) insert that name into our overall “Bidding Prayers,” and I gladly did so.

This is all the more important after the delightful evening at Our Savior on 18 November, when there was a celebration of the Vatican II Declaration on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, at which Greek Orthodox Fr Elias Stevens and I shared the rostrum for public conversation and questions/answers from the audience.  From meal beforehand to last comments, it was a wonderful evening.

My last year (I think it was) at St Bede, Orthodox and Western Easter dates coincided, and at the suggestion of Fr Demetrios, then pastor of the Greek Church in Montgomery, we celebrated the Vespers of Pentecost together, followed by a wonderful meal.  What is wrong with this picture?

What is RIGHT with this picture?  What ISN’T right about this picture??  Let me look into your eyes; let me say to you that I see a brother/sister; let me eat/drink with you and engage in communion (which will indeed be holy) with you.  Jesus Christ died and rose for you—why would I not love you?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


In his opening address of the current meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, President-Cardinal Timothy Dolan quoted the words of the Synod of Bishops on "New Evangelization."  They are an appeal for metanoia.  These words are worth hearing:
"We, however, should never think that the new evangelization does not concern us as Bishops personally. In these days voices among the Bishops were raised to recall that the Church must first of all heed the Word before she can evangelize the world. The invitation to evangelize becomes a call to conversion."
"We Bishops firmly believe that we must convert ourselves first to the power of Jesus Christ who alone can make all things new, above all our poor existence. With humility we must recognize that the poverty and weaknesses of Jesus' disciples, especially us, his ministers, weigh on the credibility of the mission. We are certainly aware – we bishops first of all – that we can never really be equal to the Lord's calling and mandate to proclaim His Gospel to the nations. We… do not hesitate to recognize our personal sins. We are, however, also convinced that the Lord's Spirit is capable of renewing His Church and rendering her garment resplendent if we let Him mold us." (Final Message of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God, October 28, 2012)

If bishops need conversion, so do we all--the group most celebrated (if anonymously) in the New Testament is the poor, and specifically the "Anawim" for and by whom (scholars believe) the NT canticles were written-- praising the bringing of Good News to the poor, light to those in darkenss... 

We should all study the text of Isaiah 61 again, which Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth, and of which He procaimed Himself to be the fulfillment.  If this is who He is and is intended to be, and if we are to be His disciples and members of His Body, then what are the implications for bishops--and all of us?

How 'converted' am I, really?  What would Jesus do; what would Jesus want me to do--really?  Where does my (so-called?) life of discipleship require more of me:  in detachment, in discipline, in dedication? 

It is fashionable (and easy) to point a finger at bishops, or the pope, or tne overall institutional Church; what happens when the finger is pointed back at me?  "Bishops," or "papacy," or "the Church":  a nice, convenient, abstract collective noun; is "me" all too personal a pronoun to think about??


Saturday, November 10, 2012


A local church marquee has the following message on its board:  "Live a life that matters."

A question jumped into my mind immediately when I read this:  what actually is a "life that matters"?

First of all, bad lives can truly "matter" in the sense of having great influence.  We don't need to think too far back to think of lives that "mattered" greatly, all for the worst.

But beyond that, what about a life makes it one that "matters"?  I think in part one has to ask, "Matters--to whom?"  And for too many of us, we think the answer to this question involves the quanity of those to whom we might "matter," rather than the quality of our "mattering."

My baby brother died at the age of six months; did he live a life that "mattered"?  If and when you get to heaven, you can ask my Mom and Dad...

When families endure the pain of a misacarriage or a stillbirth, or the death of a child in the first days after his birth, did the life of that unborn (perhaps pre-born) child "matter"?  Ask them, when they've returned from the cemetery after a graveside service...

Does "mattering" mean what one accomplishes on the big stage of the world?  Ask the parents of a child with mental disabilities...

Does it "matter" if you cannot fully function any more?  Perhaps the grandchildren of a man suffering from Parkinson's or Alzheimer's would beg to differ.

The tragedy is that when we see someone whom we think (God help us for our judgments!) cannot make a "contribution to society," we are willing to write off his/her life as not "meaningful." Really?

Catholic social teaching is clear that a person's fundamental dignity (aka, "mattering") has nothing to do with what one can "do," and everything to do with who one "is."  Who are you?

For myself, I don't want to be equated with what I can or cannot do; I want to be loved for who I am.  The Good News of the Gospel is that we are in fact loved by the One to whom we ALL "matter," and matter deeply.  He died for us, after all--out of love.  And if we are in fact truly loved, then we do matter:  in the most important sense of all.

Friday, November 2, 2012


On Facebook these last few days I've seen a wide variety of "scary" costumed children and adults, especially vampires, but there have also been some dressed up as nuns and priests (and even as bishops!).  These are also scary--very scary...

But a consideration leads me to think that perhaps ALL of us priests should "masquerade" as bishops by signing our names as bishops do:  with a little + in front of the signature.

These days one sees this exclusively in front of the names of prelates, but the history of this custom is interesting.  What looks like an honorific cross is actually an abbreviation of a Greek word, [t]apeinos.  The Greek tau (letter "t") can easily look like a cross...

What does the word mean?  It is properly translated as "lowly, humble."  And wouldn't that be a good reminder for all of us clergy? 

Once upon a time, as well, clergy signed their names and added the word peccator after.  Yes, this means "sinner."  And aren't we all?

Again, these are good reminders of what we really are and reminders, as well, of what we are called to be:  we are sinners in need of a Savior (no surprise there!), and we are to be lowly, humble servants after the model of the great Servant who came to serve, not be served, and give His life as a ransom... (Mark 10:45).

If every time we intentionally added such a "tau-cross" before our names, and included the word "sinner" (no need to hide it in Latin) after our names, perhaps the message would sink in.  Lord knows it needs to...


In honor of All Souls' Day, enjoy this movement from Gabriel Faure's Requiem, and let it be our prayer for all our beloved family and friends.  In the words of St Augustine:

"Blessed is the one who loves you, O Lord, and his friends in You, and his enemies for you.  For he is the one who loses no one who is dear, to whom all are dear, in the One who can never be lost."  [Confessions IV, ix, 14]

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


And why is it, again, that we think there are no flaws in our several States' standards of evidence for criminal cases that involve capital punishment?

We hear over an over that no mistakes are ever made in such cases (at least, that is what one former Alabama Attorney General assured his constituents).  Really?

Both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II (whom the Catechism was quoting) insisted that the need for such punishment is "practically non-existent" (CCC #2267, citing Evangelium vitae 56).  Can we not exercise a little humility and admit we don't always know all the answers?  Why not err on the side of caution? 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I cannot strongly enough encourage you to watch ALL of the 3 clips from the "Al Smith Dinner" in New York last week--comments of humor and tolerance from Governor Romney, President Obama and Cardinal Dolan.

These remarks show the ideal (sadly, so little in view during political campaigns) of what politics and exchange of viewpoints could be like.

The link is below, courtesy of Rocco Palmo and "Whispers in the Loggia."  Watch, and ENJOY...

Once you are there, go to the title you see above here!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


           How does one most effectively preach the Gospel?  This is, I have no doubt, a major topic in the recently concluded Synod of Bishops on “New Evangelization.”  I have my own answer, which I have shared in homilies and writings in recent weeks and months, but I want to elaborate on it just a little bit.
            In the current issue of America (10-15-12, pp 17ff), Green Bay Bishop David L Ricken makes an important comment.  He says:
            In his talk on the new evangelization, Cardinal Dolan recalled what Cardinal John Wright told him and other seminarians studying at the North American College in Rome in the 1970s:   “Do me and the church a big favor.  When you walk the streets of Rome, smile!”
         If I were to refer to Cardinal Dolan as a “laugh a minute bishop,” this would be the wrong impression of what I mean—he is the archetypical extravert:  always with a glad hand, a sparkle in his eye, a quick wit, and easy laugh.  This scarcely means there is not serious core there!  But it does mean that, more often than not, he is like the famous diplomat who could tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the visit.
            Why is this important?  It is very simple, really:  if the Good News is indeed “good,” then we should be glad about it, and it should show.  Who is attracted to what is manifestly “bad news” to those bringing it??
            St Francis of Assisi was famously joyful, even in great pain.  He could be severe in his commands—particularly against lax clergy habits!—but who remembers that compared with his celebration of life in the “Canticle of the Creatures”?  I wish more people remember he wrote that poem after the stigmata and the cauterizing of his diseased eyes with a red-hot poker (medical “science” being what it was in the 13th century). 
            In his last published book, Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, C S Lewis wrote:  “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”  Pope St Ambrose put it slightly differently:  Laeti bibamus sobriam ebrietatem Spiritus [Rejoicing we drink the sober drunkenness of the Spirit].  The birth [and ministry and death and resurrection] of our Savior is more than “good” news—it’s the BEST NEWS!  Why would we not be joyful, if we believed it?
            Do you want to attract people to Jesus Christ?  Be attractive as His emissary.  We as Christians must look like we have something worthwhile, something others would want, and even give their lives for. Everyone knows the bumper sticker that says “Honk if you love Jesus.”  Why not, instead, “Smile if you love Jesus”? It’s so much simpler, and it will be far more effective.  It will turn you into an evangelist.

Monday, October 1, 2012


How could I not commemorate St Francis today?  The "little poor man" of Assisi captures the hearts of the most hardened of anti-Christians (even the long-standing atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell--for whom I have a secret affection and admiration--loved this man's heart). 

I am drawn back to Assisi as a pet dog on a leash (though I grant that such a metaphor is more appropriate for the Dominicans):  the place itself, its evocations of Francis and Clare, its holy sites, all fill me with the most peaceful sense of prayer, and I return there as often as I can (without exaggeration, I have been there well over 40 times).  There is nothing to compare with the friars' Evening Prayer at San Damiano, or quiet time praying before the San Damiano crucifix (now located in the Basilica of Santa Chiara), or the stark and serene atmosphere of the crypt of San Francesso, where he is buried.  And I will go back there again, God willing, twice more in 2013...

Do I want to be like Francis?  Yes and No; could I be like Francis?  No and No.  His level of poverty (even granted the standards of life-style in 11th century Italy) is beyond me.  But his passion for Jesus Christ, for the Church, and for the Eucharist drives me and draws me.  It makes me crave to be a better disciple. 

The recording below is based on a Franciscan translation of an old Latin poem, attributed to the early Franciscan chronicler Thomas of Celano--enjoy the day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


It is amazing that Ss Cosmas and Damian are so beautifully  commemorated both in Catholic liturgy (their names are in the "old Roman Canon," aka "Eucharistic Prayer #1) and in architecture (their church, on the edge of the Roman Forum, is a 6th century wonder), and yet we know virtually nothing about them beyond the tradition that they were brothers, physicians, and martyrs (presumably during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian in the early 4th century).

They were saints originally honored especially in the Eastern Empire; their traditional site of burial is Syria.  The church in Rome, though, is of special interest in light of political turmoil today.

Its vestibule (these days, not used) is actually the so-called "Temple of Romulus" adjacent to the House of the Vestal Virgins in the Forum.  This temple is thought to have been built to honor the son of Maxentius, the rival of Constantine who lost the battle of Saxa Ruba (the "Milvian Bridge").  And so Pope Felix IV in dedicating it to these saints did what many other bishops of Rome would do:  convert ancient pagan monuments into churches (most famously, perhaps, the Pantheon).  This accomplished several purposes:  it helped to celebrate the triumph of Christianity over paganism in the City of Rome; it helped preserve great examples of ancient art and architecture; and it gave a canvas, so to speak, for artists to create their own magnificent works of art, especially (in this period) mosaics. 

The alternative would have been razing these temples with the ground.  This, I take it, would have been a great loss.  Even in their ruined state they are amazing and awe-some (it only takes a few minutes standing inside what is left of the "Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine," next door to Ss Cosmas and Damian, to understand this). 

The trouble is that this is exactly what the Turks did in the middle of the 15th century when they conquered Constantinople.  They turned the glorious church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) into a mosque.  Is this different, and if so, why?

Actually, it is in one important aspect:  by the time the bishops of Rome chose to convert pagan shrines into Christian ones, paganism was a long-forgotten memory.  The whole of Rome (and the Empire, for practical purposes) was Christian (at least in name).  This was not, and is not, the case in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul):  the Greek Orthodox are very much alive and around, and it is a pain beyond belief to them to see their great mother-church used in this way.

Think how western Catholics would feel if the same thing happened to St Peter's in Rome...

Having said all that, I am glad that when I was a student in Rome I could give historical tours of the original Roman Forum and appreciate the artistic Christian wonders produced inside their re-purposed buildings.  Perhaps I am more blessed than many by this two-fold gift--I am certainly grateful for it!  Thanks to the Chicago Jesuits who made sure our education was classical as well as Christian.

On the top of this post are the two external views of the old Roman and now Christian building; below are view of the apse mosaic inside.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 21, 2012


           In the early 1970s David Frye did a satirical LP recording called “Richard Nixon: A Fantasy.”  As Frye’s basic comedic gift was that of vocal impersonations, this was a roaring success simply on those terms.  The fact that later on several of the wildest details of the album’s storyline turned out to be true gave the whole production an aura of hallucinogenic quality.
            This is my political fantasy.  Sadly, I am certain it will never come to be true, but I wish with all my heart that it could.
            In (especially, but not exclusively limited to) presidential election years, I would love to see campaigns limited as follows:
            3 sets of “public debates” will be offered on national television.  The format will involve one moderator and the two candidates.  The moderator will have a list (shown beforehand to the candidates) of 18 issues of importance for the election.  Each “public debate” will deal with 6 of the 18.
            To each of the 6 issues, each candidate will be strictly limited solely to explaining what he/she would propose as the best way to respond.  The candidates will be strictly forbidden to comment on existing for former policies, and they will also be forbidden to speak with regard to the perceived benefits/drawbacks of their opponent’s replies.
            In other words, the campaign would be based completely and only on the actual positive proposals made by the men/women running for office.  There would be therefore no negative attack ads, and there would be no criticism of present or former policies and the degree of their success or failure (with the single exception that the incumbent could refer to his policies if they are intended to remain in place if he/she were to be elected.   There would also be no room for saying why one’s opponent is wrong; there would only be space for saying what the candidate would do that is right or best (never “better” as that would require a direct comparison with the opponent’s ideas/policies).
            So the electorate would make their political decisions on the basis of their agreement or disagreement with the candidates’ vision and recommendations for current policy and future direction for the nation (or state, or city).
            One can always fantasize…

Tuesday, September 11, 2012



 This past Sunday marked the celebration of Our Savior’s parish feast.  Although the actual patronal day is 9-14 (Exaltation of the Holy Cross), we transferred the commemoration to Sunday in order to encourage more folks to attend our solemn Evening Prayer and parish supper.  As always, it was well attended.

          This year the liturgy, though completely Roman, was marked with an ecumenical flavor.  Pastor Joy Blaylock of St Paul ELCA co-presided and was our guest preacher; Pastor Chris George of 1st Baptist also co-presided and led the Intercessions and Lord’s Prayer.  Members of both congregations were in attendance and joined us afterward for a pork tenderloin dinner.  Lutherans brought salads and sides; Baptists brought desserts. 

          The evening was a glimpse of what could (and should) be with brothers and sisters in Christ; it was at marked divergence from the climate of our world—both in terms of national politics and in terms of international tensions.  What marks the rest of the world all too much—hate and violence—were inverted at Our Savior as we rejoiced in love and tolerance.  Indeed, how good and pleasant it is (see Psalm 133)!

          There were times during the service (notably, during Pastor Joy’s preaching, during the Magnificat/Canticle of Mary, and the closing hymn) that I could not control my emotions of gratitude, happiness and longing for this to be a regular and not a special occasion.  I know that I have brothers and sisters in the ecumenical effort who feel the same way.

          “What separates us besides our ideas?  Admit that these are of little consequence,” once said Abp Angelo Roncalli (aka, Pope John XXIII).  How right was he?  I often wonder…

          The biggest divides between denominations seem to me to be ecclesial rather than doctrinal (though those do exist as well).   What I mean is that we all confess Jesus Christ as Lord, though we disagree on how the Church should be structured, governed and should operate.  How “central” are these?  Jesuits, Cistercians and Franciscans all have differing forms of governance, and not to embrace any one means you are not one of them.  Yet all are still Catholic.  The many rites of the Church reflect significant liturgical and even theological variation, yet all are still Catholic.   Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed about the reality of resurrection, yet they could share a seder together.  I know you can see where I’m going.  And I am not sure this is a deviant path to pursue.

          We declare that we are all united in Christ to some degree through our mutual baptism. How much “to some degree” is necessary?  What does it mean to be “in full communion” when we consider, for example, the sometimes pro forma behavior of baptized Catholics who nevertheless are welcomed to Holy Communion? 

          I pray constantly:  “Come, Holy Spirit:  FILL the hearts of your faithful…”  It will take His touch, but if we are open, it can happen!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Isaac (Tropical Storm?  Hurricane?  it doesn't really matter that much) is upon us, with bands of wind/rain lashing us.

I have no doubt we'll be fine in the long term (and as Charles Williams once wrote, "All luck is finally good luck").  Meanwhile, we 'hunker down' and ride it out.

Having lived in Alabama since 1974, this is of course not my first hurricane.  I've lived through some of the big ones:  Frederick, Ivan, Opal, Katrina... (but why do I feel like Fred Sanford when I say that?!)--but always in Montgomery or Troy:  this is the first one I've been through while in Mobile.  "Preparedness" takes on a whole new meaning here, whether or not all the precautions turn out to have been necessary.

We sandback and tape doors; anthing "moveable" (patio furniture, for example) is stowed away; drinking water and ice and non-perishable foods are stock-piled; batteries are bought; we consider whether we should have bought generators; and no doubt wine will be drunk!  Will we be OK?  Yes...

Just a couple of nights ago we had a huge fiesta to celebrate the 20+ years' relationship we've had with our sister-parish of San Francisco de Asis in Temascalapa, Mexico.  And this is really the core of "church," after all:  mutual membership in the Body of Christ.  It's what remains if the church building is washed away.  And it's what's fundamental to the Faith.

For your listening pleasure, I am adding an excerpt from Benjamin Britten's one-act opera, Noye's Fludde, based on a mediaeval English mystery play.  Noye and his family and the animals, in the Ark, sing (along with the audience) the "Navy Hymn," Eternal Father, Strong To Save.  These days we sing an altered version for the other military branches, but I far prefer the original.  The excerpt is vv 2-3 of the hymn.

As a personal footnote, I had the privilege of singing the title role in a production in Montgomery in 1983 (which, I guess, makes me as old as Noah!)...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


[What I have posted below is in fact going to be on the parish website ( this weekend, but I thought I'd share it now with hopefully a wider audience.]


            I write this while in Destin for the last few days of my vacation time, and this has already been a very sad week for our country and for the world.  Three events stand out in my mind for their sickening statements about human nature enmeshed in sin.

            The first is the recent killing in the Kogi state of Nigeria—a Christian (fundamentalist?) church called Deeper Life was attacked by men with assault rifles while worship services were going on—the pastor was one of the many killed (no word, as of this writing, on how many were also wounded).  The attackers were from the radical militant group Boko Haran, which is utterly opposed to all things “Western.”

            We all know by now about the shooting and killing that took place at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin—Wade Page, the accused killer, has had ties to white a supremacist group, and reportedly the songs he performed while part of a rock group were strewn with hate lyrics.

            Finally, courtesy of a Facebook post from Fr Buddy Noel, either in “retaliation” or in “copycat” mode to the Wisconsin attack, someone set fire to a mosque in Joplin, Missouri.

            Again courtesy of Facebook, a quote from Eric Parsons (via my friend Doris Underwood) makes a simple statement:
I was gonna post something that would tell you the difference between Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims but I realized that you don’t need to know anything about somebody’s religion to know that you shouldn’t shoot them.

      But I guess there are just enough people in the world who believe that if you believe differently from me you are “The Enemy” and must be destroyed.  This obviously goes far beyond the flap over Chick-Fil-A, yet it’s cut from the same piece of cloth, in the long run:  it’s about tolerance of differences that don’t have to make a difference in our ability to get along.

            Just last month our Mobile Trialogue was hosted for a prayer and discussion event at a local masjid (otherwise known as a mosque)—for most of us who were Jews or Christians it was the first time we actually sat in on a Muslim prayer service.  What a difference a few days makes…

            Muslims regard Friday as the special day of prayer and worship; Jews (and Seventh Day Adventists) believe that Saturday is the Sabbath that must be kept holy; Christians see Sunday as “The Lord’s Day.”  Muslims have the 30-day period of fasting called Ramadan; Jews have the 10 High Holy Days of repentance from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur; Christians look to the 40 days of Lent for a special time of fasting and penance.  We disagree on the nature of Jesus, the hope for the longed-for Messiah, and the purpose of the Prophet—though they are all expressions of hope for fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.  Do these “disagreements” justify hatred and violence? 

            Fr Buddy Noel wondered (on his FB post) whether we should not be standing guard over one another’s houses of worship to prevent such attacks in the future.  In the beginnings of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt, that was exactly what Muslims and Copts in the streets did:  one group circling the other protectively as they worshiped.  Is this so hard, really?

            Hate and terror are, in fact, quite “ecumenical”—they recognize no boundaries of religion and are quite willing to destroy you, no matter your faith, if you are perceived as standing in the way of their “agenda.”  Why? 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Upon arriving at Most Holy Redeemer rectory yesterday (where I stay while in Chicago--my Mom's parish, before she died), I learned of the death, the day before my arrival, of one of the (retired) associates here:  Fr Joe Ruiz.  The obituary in today's Chicago Tribune said he "shared life and faith with hundreds of people throughout the Chicago Archdiocese..."  I simply remember him as a gentle soul who was the one who anointed my Mother before she died.  He was not the greatest preacher since Cardinal Newman, but he cared for people and had the heart of a servant.

I wonder:  should he be referred to as "a church official"?

This is how Msgr William Linn of Philadelphia has been characterized in the press following his sentening of 3-6 years in the general population of a prison (which is a quasi-death sentence).  Is the press using this language to distance Fr Linn's actions from the Catholic clergy?  Not likely-- it is more possible it is attempting by this vocabulary to distance the Catholic Church from anything sacred...

Has Fr Linn also been someone who shared life and faith with others?  Certainly so.  Is he taking the rap for others (living and dead) who are more directly responsible for abuse of children?  Probably.  Is is therefore able to avoid culpability?  No--just look at Penn State, not an altogether unfair analogy...  But the argument that Fr Linn deserves hard time instead of house arrest because otherwise he might flee to the Vatican?!  Really??  This kind of logic, I thought, ended with the 2 defeats of Al Smith in the 1920s.  In any event, even if he did flee, I could virtually guarantee there'd be the swiftest extradition proceeding anyone has ever seen when Benedict would dump him back to the States without a qualm.

What should be Fr Linn's obituary (yes, this is a bit early)?  I would hope it would be similar to what Fr Ruiz's (or mine) would say-- a series of quotes:

"O God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (the tax-collector)
"Bury this body wherever you want; only remember me when you are at the altar of the Lord" (St Monica)

Footnote:  a friend sent me a message (with which I completely agree) that any fine leveled against Penn State by the NCAA should be directed toward programs to protect children from predatory sex offenders.  What do you think?

Thursday, July 5, 2012


After the dust attempts to settle (or not) in the wake (pun intended) of the Supreme Court’s decision that the Affordable Health Care Law is indeed constitutional, and ignoring the upcoming lawsuits against the HHS mandate attached to it, I want to reflect on the meanings of religious liberty and freedom of conscience and establishment in what I hope will be a calmer (if not more reasoned) manner.

The Catholic Church historically (read: especially—but not only—since President Obama’s health care legislative initiative) has been solidly in favor of universal health insurance made affordable to all.  The issue for the churches (Catholic and others) has been the HHS mandate that forces them to pay for others’ abortions (yes, the “morning after pill” is abortifacient).  Though the press has focused on this as an issue of contraception, the concerns are in fact much larger: can the government enact policies that are in direct opposition to the teachings and practices of a given religious body?

The answer surely is YES and NO.

Consider the circumstances of those Christian bodies (Quakers, Amish, Mennonites…) for which war is totally unacceptable from a moral and religious standpoint.  Can the government nevertheless impose a draft?  Of course it can, and in the past it has.  However:  there was from the beginning an “escape” of sorts for those who objected to bearing arms in warfare because of issues of conscience.  They were granted the status of “conscientious objectors,” and they were required instead to offer alternative service—perhaps as ambulance drivers or medics, for example.  Chaplains of any stripe, moreover, were never obligated to bear arms in the exercise of their duties.  So accommodation can be made.

Catholics (and others) are simply saying:  “It’s bad enough, from our point of view, that the law allows for abortions; we will acquiesce in the law, though we will try to persuade people that it is wrong.   All we ask here is don’t force us to pay for the abortions, as well.  We refrain from coercion of those exercising their legal right; please also refrain from coercion in making us pay for what we in conscience understand to be evil.”  This is not so hard to understand, I don’t think…

On the other hand, what do we really understand by the idea of “restricting freedom of exercise of religion”?  Although it is patently ludicrous to think that a Catholic university or hospital or social services center, by virtue of the fact that it doesn’t minister to or serve Catholics as its overwhelming majority, somehow doesn’t come under the aegis of the law’s definition of “Catholic institution,” we must also recall the context within which the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae was crafted.  A then little-known auxiliary bishop from Poland, Karol Wojtyla, had a major hand in getting this document approved as he knew, first-hand, the struggles of the Polish people to exercise their freedom to worship under a communist regime.  Our situation in the United States is radically different from his, after all, isn’t it?

What if the Catholic Church (and others) were to lose its protected status (eg, tax exemptions) in the name of a completely secular State?  Would the Church be the worse, or the better, off for this?  I think of the position of the Ultramontanes (the ultra-conservative pro-papal authority wing) in the 19th century when they (foolishly) insisted that papal authority must include political and temporal sovereignty over the “Papal States” of central Italy).  This ended in fact in 1870, and it was ended legally in 1929.  To think the pope should not be a prince was regarded as heresy; to see those territories taken over (especially in Rome itself) was thought disastrous.  Yet there could have been no greater blessing to the papacy than the elimination of this completely unnecessary circumstance that history foisted on the papacy from about the 6th century.  Might a loss of privilege from the government here produce similar beneficent effects and blessing?

It is frankly futile to appeal to Scripture in judging issues and controversies like this—after all, there was no such thing as representative republican government (such as we have) in those days.   So appeals to texts like “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” are of little help.  What is of help, though, is historical precedent.  The Church seems most to be the Church (properly speaking) when it is in a minority and is persecuted.  The glory of God is a human being fully alive, St Irenaeus wrote in the 2nd century.   But often being “fully alive” meant being willing (and likely) to die for one’s convictions.  If the insight of the 2nd century North African theologian Tertullian (“The blood of martyrs is the seed-bed of the Church”) is true, then perhaps we might rejoice in some distancing of ourselves from positions of privilege and know that if we are to be prophetic we must be 1) often counter-establishment, and 2) always credible—in our witness if not always in our words.  So let’s get on with it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


One can scarcely do better than the words of Dignitatis Humanae, the Decree on Religious Liberty from the Second Vatican Council in 1965, which said in part:

This Vatican Synod declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom.  This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious on one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.  Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.
The Synod further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed Word of God and by reason itself.  This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed.  Thus it is to become a civil right.   [paragraph 2]

As the first "Fortnight for Freedom" is set to begin today, with a two weeks' period leading up to Independence Day, the Vatican II document takes pride of place in American Catholic thinking.  It is worth observing that bishops from countries under communist rule were strongly in favor of this decree, rightly seeing in it an affirmation of the Church's right to exist even in a State formally atheistic.  Among the supporters of Dignitatis Humanae was the Polish Abp Karol Wojtyla, whom some of us were to know better from his subsequent ministry in the Church...

Friday, June 15, 2012


I begin this post with a snippet from a recent item on Roccos Palmo's Whispers in the Loggia, which concerns Bishop Bernard Fellay, leader of the schismatic "Society of St Pius X":

In an extended interview with the Society's official news organ released last week, the SSPX superior said that "Rome no longer makes total acceptance of Vatican II a prerequisite for the canonical solution" of the fraternity's return.
"[T]he attitude of the official Church is what changed," Fellay said. "We did not."

He added that the Society "were not the ones who asked for an agreement; the pope is the one who wants to recognize us."

This is disturbing on a number of levels, presuming it reflects accurately the mind-set of the Vatican officials (including Pope Benedict) with regard to the authority of the documents of Vatican II.  If the SSPX need not make "total acceptance of Vatican II" a criterion for good standing as Catholics, the fundamenal questions are 1.  why not?  and  2.  which teachings are now going to be regarded as "optional," and on what basis?

The flag-waving issue for this breakaway group has long been the Novus Ordo Missae, the revision of the Church's liturgy of the Mass made in 1969 under the authority of the Consilium set up to implement the Vatican Council's liturgical constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium.  If the issue is their permission to carry on with their preference for the older form of the Mass (presumably the 1962 edition of the "Tridentine Mass") then it seems they are only in line with the permission that has already been given by Pope Benedict with his motu proprio decree Summorum Pontificum (sadly, only in Latin and Hungarian on the Vatican's website) which gives great freedom for priests to celebrate the "Extraordinary Form" (aka, Tridentine Mass).

So what, then, are the aspects of Vatican II that Bp Fellay implies do not need to be accepted?  This is the worrisome part, for famously the SSPX rejected Vatican II not only for its (to them, unauthorized) changes in the liturgy, but also for their embrace of non-Catholic Christians, non-Christian religions (especially the Jews), and its advocacy of religious liberty.  While the pastoral constitution on the Church and the modern world Gaudium et Spes was certainly offensive to this group, other documents are far more problematic for them:  Nostra Aetate on the Church's relation to non-Christian religions; Unitatis Redintegratio on ecumenical relations with non-Catholics; and Dignitatis Humanae on religious freedom. 

Are there implications (not, at this point, anyway, denied or clarified by the Vatican) that one or more of these documents (or specific content in them) is now to be considered "optional"?

Beyond this, the idea that there can be a soft-pedaling of Church teaching in the name of reconciling a defiant faction is at least curious. 

More to come?  I hope not much more...

But as our observance of the 50th anniversary of Vatican II will begin later this year, in conjunction with Pope Benedict's calling for a "Year of Faith," Our Savior's Adult Religious Education will focus on precisely these Vatican II documents, along with special presentations on the issues by guest speakers.  Stay tuned (or see for updates.

Friday, June 8, 2012


The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently issued a "Notification" about a book by Sr Margaret A Farley, RSM entitled Just Love.  A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.  The Notification has been described as an example of the Vatican's heavy-handed censorship of scholars, but please read below its conclusion:

With this Notification, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expresses profound regret that a member of an Institute of Consecrated Life, Sr. Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M., affirms positions that are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality. The Congregation warns the faithful that her book Just Love. A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church. Consequently it cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Furthermore the Congregation wishes to encourage theologians to pursue the task of studying and teaching moral theology in full concord with the principles of Catholic doctrine.

In light of this, I offer some reflections for consideration--

First of all, the book has not been condemned; it will not be burned; Sr Margaret has not been excommunicated; neither has she been ordered to be removed from her teaching post.

Second, and what should be obvious to those who look at the whole Notification with its quotes from Sr Margaret's book, it is truly not in line with official Catholic moral teaching as enshrined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 

Third, this is all the Notification says.  It is patent that by defiinition the book cannot be held up as a paradigm of Catholic teaching.  This does not mean the book is worthless, nor that the author is a heretic.  It means that since the book does not conform with Catholic teaching, no one should pretend that it does.  The book reflects Sr Margaret's theological opinion (or perhaps her willingness to initiate a discussion) and nothing more.

This is surely the mildest of all possible censures; it scarcely merits the idea of its being a censorship of any kind.

"Big Brother" may indeed be watching, but in this case he did not come down with a sledge hammer.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


In honor of Her Majesty's Jubilee, here is an anthem composed specially for her coronation in 1952 by Ralph Vaughn Williams:


What a long distance this letter is from the Bull Regnans in Excelsis by which Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I--and thank God for the distance!

To Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth II

I write to offer my warmest congratulations to Your Majesty on the happy occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of your reign. During the past sixty years you have offered to your subjects and to the whole world an inspiring example of dedication to duty and a commitment to maintaining the principles of freedom, justice and democracy, in keeping with a noble vision of the role of a Christian monarch.

I retain warm memories of the gracious welcome accorded to me by Your Majesty at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh at the beginning of my Apostolic Visit to the United Kingdom in September 2010, and I renew my thanks for the hospitality that I received throughout those four days. Your personal commitment to cooperation and mutual respect between the followers of different religious traditions has contributed in no small measure to improving ecumenical and interreligious relations throughout your realms.

Commending Your Majesty and all the Royal Family to the protection of Almighty God, I renew my heartfelt good wishes on this joyful occasion and I assure you of my prayers for your continuing health and prosperity.

From the Vatican, 23 May 2012


Thursday, May 31, 2012


Sounds morbid, no?   But it isn’t, really:  we must all face the inevitability, and sometimes things bring that fact home to us more clearly than at other times.
Sunday Deacon Joe McGonagle (who was at St Ignatius when I was first assigned there after my ordination) died this past Sunday of complications from dementia (and, I think, Parkinson’s).  Wednesday (yesterday) Bobby Rimes, SJ (my spiritual director for 21 years) died from malignant lesions on the brain.  And as I walked the Mississippi River levee here at Manresa Retreat Center today, I wondered:  how will I die?

One pope had a marble skull carved by Bernini on his writing desk; another pope had his coffin in his bedroom.  No, this is not morbidity:  it is consciousness of a reality we most of us would sooner pretend doesn’t exist.  But it does—and it does, for you and for me.

How will I die?  It’s not an academic question, obviously.  Will it be cancer or a car wreck, dementia or diabetes, stroke or something else?  Will I have friends around me, like the Venerable Bede, or will I die alone, like Francis Xavier?  More importantly, will I be able and willing to live out Colossians 1:24 and offer any suffering for the sake of His Body, the Church?  I hope so:  my two models for this are Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Bernardin.  I can only pray for courage similar to theirs.
Even more important for the Lord’s disciples, I think, is the question how will I die to self today?  What indulgences am I willing to surrender, what sorrows and pains of others am I willing to embrace, what hardships am I willing to undergo, for the sake of the Name?  Am I really a servant in the parish where I am assigned?  What is the quality of my ministry, and is it self-giving or self-serving?

Hard questions, these:  but we need to ask them, especially priests.  Our retreat master this week emphasized that if priests are ordained to stand in persona Christi during the celebration of the sacraments, we must also do so away from altar/font/reconciliation room, in our daily lives:  we are given the task of being in persona Christi as He was the Self-Sacrificing Servant:  “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the many” (Mark 10:45, from Wednesday’s Gospel at Mass).

Let's ALL be servants...

Monday, May 28, 2012


As our Archdiocesan priests (most of them, anyway) prepare for our annual retreat at Manresa Retreat Center outside Convent, LA this week, I think a reflection on the meaning of this kind of exercise is worthwhile.

I have a friend from college days (we recently re-connected via Facebook) who thinks that we should never make "retreats" unless it's for the purpose of "re-loading"!  There is much to this insight, I think.  The word "retreat" sounds like running away; "re-loading" (or, perhaps even better, "re-charging") carries the connotation of only being out of the action for a brief respite, rather like the time in one's corner before the bell rings and it's time for "Round 10" of the boxing match. 

This kind of respite is important for physical and psychological as well as spiritual reasons.  It gives us a chance to enjoy the fraternity of one another's company in prayer and socialization (many of us are by default "Lone Rangers" as the sole priests of parishes, perhaps also geographically isolated from the others of our presbytery).   It restores our enthusiasm for the Lord and our ministry in His Name through the conferences offered by our retreat masters (think of the famous "Win One For The Gipper" speech from Knute Rockne, All-American).  There is time for reading, writing, more sustained prayer, physical exercise or just naps that simply don't exist on a regular or systematic basis in day-to-day parish life. 

Before being ordained as a deacon, a priest or a bishop, the Church's canon law requires the candidate to make a 5-day retreat.  It would be nice if we could make this annual gathering a 5-day retreat, as well.  But we'll take the 2 1/2 days we get and be thankful for them.

Most of us will return from Manresa late Thursday and need to hit the ground running again, with funerals, weddings, ordinations...  And we will.  This time away will make us that much more ready to do this, for God's glory and the building up of His Kingdom in the parishes where we minister. 

Please pray for us--we will be lifting up all the members of the parishes of our Archdiocese while we are away, in a special way in the chapel pictured above.


On this Memorial Day it seems the right thing to do, to offer a musical remembrance for those who have died for our country, and also for those (now gone before us) who have been central to our lives and growth as decent human beings. 

Rocco Palmo in his blog "Whispers in the Loggia" traditionally posts the "Nimrod" section from Elgar's Enigma Variations as performed by a British military band in tribute to their fallen ones; for myself, I have in the past (and have again, below) offered the performance by the Chicago Symphony, led by Daniel Barenboim.  In his case, there must have been a double memorial:  officially, it was a tribute to the former CSO music director, Sir Georg Solti, who had just died.  But surely there was the remembrance, too, of Barenboim's deceased wife, the great cellist Jacqueline Du Pre, who died 10 years before this 1997 performance from the complications of multiple sclerosis.

In my own case, as we are heading into our Archdiocesan priests' retreat, I cannot forget the scene some years ago when before our afternoon session Msgr James Oberkirk had a massive heart attack in front of us all, and died.  As we moved from that session into the chapel, Fr Oberkirk's protege was at the organ, and he happened to be playing this particular work.  It was eerie, and deeply moving.

So for all our fallen heroes, named and unnamed; and for all those whom we love-- let's enjoy the day, be thankful for their sacrifices, and re-commit ourselves to faithful service in the name of the One for whom service is most fitting...

Saturday, May 19, 2012


We are celebrating Ascension Thursday on Sunday (oh, well!).  But in honor of the Lord, I offer this performance of Ralph Vaughn Williams' setting of the text of our Responsorial Psalm 47:  "O Clap Your Hands."  It is, of course, to the text of the Authorized (King James) Version, and wonderful.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


As I write this meditation, I am listening to a wonderful 2-CD set, The Pilgrimage to Santiago (L’Oiseau-Lyre 433 148-2), including to the song “Non E Gran Causa,” also recorded by Loreena McKennitt (The Mask and the Mirror, on this disk simply titled “Santiago”).  This is “required listening” as I am reflecting on The Way, a movie made jointly by Emilio Estevez and his Father, Martin Sheen.

What is “The Way”?  It seems to me that the title of this movie is a multiplex play on words and meanings.  It clearly refers to the pilgrimage route(s) to the shrine of St James, Santiago de Compostela, on the north coast of Spain.  It also refers to a method:  it is the “way” by which we do things (or things are ‘done’ to us)—it’s the ‘way’ in which things need to or ought to or in fact happen.  It is also an allusion to the earliest name for Christianity (Acts of the Apostles):  the new Way.  Finally, I think there is buried in here an allusion to the famous statement of Jesus (John 14) that He is the “Way, the Truth & the Life.”  If I may paraphrase a bit, the movie suggests that the Way reveals the Truth of one’s Life…

I have done pilgrimages (walking ones) in the past, while a student in England—both in England and in the Holy Land.  Let me assure you that there is nothing more likely than meeting up with unlikely companions!  As a footnote, there were, in the Middle Ages, three major pilgrimage destinations:  Rome, Canterbury (whence Chaucer’s Tales), and Santiago.  For over 1,000 years people have made this pilgrimage (and there are actually several routes one can take from France through Spain to Santiago).
Why make such an arduous trip?  That is the question one might ask of Tom Avery (Martin Sheen), a quasi-depressed lapsed Catholic.  His only son died while setting out on this pilgrimage, and Tom (ostensibly) wants to finish the journey for his son (whose cremated ashes he carries).  He is joined by three other characters:  Joost, an overweight man from the Netherlands who says he wants to lose weight to fit into a suit for his brother’s third (!) wedding; Sarah, a woman from Canada who says she wants to quit smoking; and Jack, an Irish writer with writer’s block.  Not one of them easily (or at all) admits to the others the real reasons for their trek—despite it all, they all have religious reasons.  Should we be surprised?

The writing for the script is sometimes very forced, as for Sarah’s early encounter with Tom, or most of Jack’s effusions.  Beyond that, though, the characters are strong enough to deal with the occasional lapses in their dialogue.  In ways redolent of the personalities and fates of the characters in Brideshead Revisited, they are attractive in strange ways.  I wouldn’t want to be around them all the time, but I would enjoy visiting them from time to time.

“You don’t choose a life, you live one” Tom’s son, Daniel, tells him.  It is clearly a statement intended to evoke the significance of the opening of Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven:  “All endings are also beginnings.  We just don’t know it at the time.”  But it’s not that simple, as Peter Brown suggests in his monumental biography Augustine of Hippo:  “Men choose because they love; but Augustine had been certain for some twenty years, that they could not, of themselves, choose to love” (p 373).  Choosing and living have to go together:  we choose (how, we don’t really know), then we embrace what we have chosen and have joy:  or do not embrace the choice, and experience misery.

And we are also on pilgrimage, even if not to Santiago, or Rome, or Canterbury.  The Church itself, after all, is a “pilgrim people” (see, eg, Lumen Gentium 8, 14 from Vatican Council II).  We are on a journey toward self-realization, self-actualization (not that we achieve this, but that it is our selves—individually and collectively—that seek this transformation).  What would we gratefully lay down at the feet of St James (or St Thomas a Becket, or Ss Peter and Paul), and what would we want to pick up to enable us to continue the journey?  “I come to you with nothing in my hands,” once said one monk to a master.  “Then drop it at once,” the master replied.  Even “nothing” can be something (especially when permeated with pride).  What should we/must we “drop at once”?

Pilgrimages, at their best, can end in this transformation.  Think also of the “pilgrimage” of the mercenary Rodrigo in The Mission, carrying his armour and weapons up the hill to the tribe of Native Americans he’d been in the business of enslaving.  What transformed him, and how might it do the same for us?

This is why, as Chaucer wrote (in the title to this post) that people do, indeed, long to go on pilgrimages.