Monday, December 30, 2013


This question was thrown at me (I do not exaggerate) by a woman who was admittedly a “visitor” to Our Savior church this past weekend.  It was clearly a question of contempt both for the Jesuits and for me.  What triggered it?

The woman was upset (to use a mild descriptive) because the tabernacle in Our Savior is not directly behind the altar, but rather in a chapel area around to the side.  She insisted that I consider moving it to where she regarded it as its only place.

I tried to be calm (I probably failed), but my attempts to reason with her were not productive.  This was the case even though I freely admitted that the tabernacle is now where it would not be, had I been the designer of the church.  But I would not have put it where she wanted it, either.  When I would not agree with her, she threw the “Jesuit” question at me.  I assured her I was not a Jesuit (maybe I should have said, “But I have been educated by the Jesuits”!).  And so she left, very angry.  [Where would I have put the tabernacle, had I been building Our Savior church?  This is a difficult question!  I am glad I am not in the position to have to answer it.  But one model for me (for those who know it) is the “old” St Michael’s in Auburn.]

What is the great “sticking point” for people like this woman?  It is, I believe, custom and a (perhaps unconscious) resentment toward all that was brought in by and is aligned with “Vatican II.,” especially in the realm of liturgy.  A tabernacle in another place is not what some people are used to; they see any move as an insult to Jesus.  But is this necessarily the case?

First of all, we must see what the Catholic Church says about the purpose of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.  In order, they are:  1) to bring viaticum to the dying; 2) to bring Holy Communion to the sick and for private prayer/adoration (Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, #5).

Next, we should see what the Catholic Church says about the location of the tabernacle:  “…to express the sign of the eucharist, it is more in harmony with the nature of the celebration that, at the altar where Mass is celebrated, there should if possible be no reservation of the sacrament in the tabernacle [if one exists at that altar] from the beginning of Mass.”  “The place for the reservation of the eucharist should be truly preeminent…This will be achieved more easily if the chapel [of reservation] is separate from the body of the church…” (ibid, #9).  “…the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, conspicuous, worthily decorated, and suitable for prayer….It is more appropriate as a sign that on an altar on which Mass is celebrated there not be a tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved.  Consequently, it is preferable that the tabernacle be located…even in some chapel suitable for the private adoration and prayer of the faithful…  (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 3rd Typical Edition, ##314-315).

It seems to me that while one can argue (reasonably) that our tabernacle’s location is not sufficiently “prominent [and] conspicuous,” it does meet the other criteria set up by the Catholic Church’s documents.

Why does this matter?  In large part, it is the culmination of a trajectory of liturgical sensibility that began with Pope St Pius X and even before—to make participation in the Mass the primary purpose of a church, not to have it as simply a very large Adoration Chapel.  Historically, before Pius X, there was (to put it gently) a reluctance neither to participate in the celebration in any active way, nor to receive the Holy Eucharist.  Church law actually had to mandate reception of Communion at least once a year (the famous “Easter duty” from the Six Precepts of the Church).  Most Catholics were far more comfortable and far more used simply to gaze, worship, adore, and go home—seemingly forgetting that the command of the Lord was “Take and eat; take and drink.”  We then believed ourselves too unworthy…

Is there a place “in the center of the church” for the Eucharistic Presence of our Lord to be worshipped?  Of course—during every Mass!  And when you receive Holy Communion, please realize:  YOU have become a “tabernacle”!

I wish we were as passionate as this woman about the way we need to take Christ into the world, rather than worrying too much about where He is “located” in our churches (do we really think we can lock Him up in the tabernacle?).  Pope Francis’ challenge in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) makes it clear that our role in the “new evangelization” is precisely to experience the presence of the Lord sacramentally as we receive the Eucharist, and then be His missionaries to those in need.  Liturgical worship and private prayer do not exist for their own sake—they are they to nourish and empower us to live and be the Gospel. 

I pray that 2014 will be a year of evangelical re-birth for us, to do just this.  Meanwhile, I pray before the Blessed Sacrament before every Mass.  I hope you’ll join me there.

Monday, December 23, 2013


Pope Francis has famously asked for “…a poor Church, for the poor.”  I agree with him on one level, but I think (God forgive me!) that I disagree with him on another (though we actually in fact both agree)…
If a poor Church is one that has solidarity with the poor, yet the goods of the Church are necessary to help alleviate the suffering of the poor.  These are two dimensions necessary for the moral life of the Church, it seems to me.

So must the Church be rich?  I think so, understood in a specific sense.

I went to buy some seafood today at a store run by a family who are parishioners.  They have been too kind to me in the past—I feel guilty going there, knowing how much they want to give me.  Today was not much different—I left with seafood (at a discount) and a wonderful “to-go pack” of lunch.  As I was driving back to the rectory, I realized, “I am rich.”  But where does the wealth come from?  It comes from love.

It is in this sense that I want a “rich Church, for the rich.”   I want us to be so overflowing with love for one another and for others that no one can help also but be rich—and grateful.  As St Paul reminds us (II Cor 8:9):  “…our Lord Jesus Christ, [who] for your sake…became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty [we] might become rich.”  This is not just a clever Scripture passage for Stewardship Sunday—it is fundamental to the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption:  He freely gives what we desperately need, but what ourselves could never merit or earn or purchase. 

So I want a Church rich in love, rich in receiving the blessings of the Lord, rich in willingness to share those blessings (material and spiritual) with those who long for them.  This is a Church in which the loaves and fishes are gladly shared in confidence that they will be multiplied to feed the thousands.  It is a Church in which water, freely offered, can be transformed into wine.  It is a Church where the Bread broken and Wine poured out will offer reconciliation and healing.

This is a Church in which no one, ultimately, is poor.

Monday, December 16, 2013


What kind of “Body of Christ” do we need to be, to be a credible (and creditable) Body of Christ?  It’s hard to think of anyone giving a better witness and lead in this direction, now, than Pope Francis.

His Christ-like embrace of the poor and ministry to the poor is not only something that flows from his spirituality and identity (it’s nothing appliqued).  It is marked by creativity and thoughtfulness.  Most recently, the Holy Father has sent off a “small Christmas gift” of two thousand envelopes to be distributed by volunteers to the poor of Rome.  The distribution centers, it was reported, are the places where Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity do their ministry.  That means their international mother-house on the edge of the Circus Maximus, at San Gregorio Magno; and their outpost alongside the Vatican’s offices for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (the Holy Office), just to the left and outside the colonnade of the piazza of St Peter’s.  What is in those envelopes?

The poor will receive a one-day pass on the City’s Metro (subway) system, and a phone card; the envelopes will be stamped, so that they can be used by the recipients to mail letters; and they will have a Christmas card signed by Pope Francis—expressing his solidarity.

Does he roam the streets around St Peter’s at night, to help the poor?  No.  But does his special emissary in charity, Abp Konrad Krajewski, do so, down the Via della Conciliazione where many of the homeless poor spend the night?  Yes, he does.
Creativity in mercy is a powerful way to show the love of Jesus Christ. 
Why be a Christian?  It is because we are utterly convinced of the reality of the Resurrection which validates the ministry and message of Jesus.
How be a Christian?  Engage in the virtue of active love/forgiveness/reconciliation of others.  How much more clearly do we need to be told, beyond the parable of sheep and goats (Matt 25:31-46)?

To these seven “corporal works of mercy” the Church has since added seven “spiritual ones.”  Check out all fourteen!!

Not everyone can do all fourteen, but every Christian must do some, and the Church must regularly engage in them all and be known and seen to do so.  This I not self-aggrandizement; it is the command of the Lord (Matt 5:16) to let the light shine.  It’s not all about “me”—it’s all about Him.  It’s about faith working in love (Gal 5:6), or, if you prefer, “walking the talk.”

And Pope Francis knows this better than most.


Thursday, December 12, 2013


There is a tremendous amount of upset, it seems, amid certain quarters of the Catholic Church, with Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.  Most of it is curious, to say the least.  We have the spectacle of TV “reporters” on Catholic channels (or “commentators” like Rush Limbaugh) questioning the degree of the “binding nature” of this document because there are statements in it about economics and re-distribution of wealth on behalf of the poor.  They are convinced that the Pope knows nothing about economics and that there is no reason to take him seriously when he speaks about systemic change.

They may or may not be right in their critique of his analysis, but in focusing on the points that they do, they miss the forest (deliberately?) in order to wring their hands at a given tree.  This is tragic, but perhaps it is understandable.  And there certainly is precedent.

When the Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae) stated that the justification for capital punishment was “very rare, if not practically non-existent,” some of the same pundits pounced on the words “rare” and “practically,” arguing that this meant there is no definitive condemnation of capital punishment, and so death penalty-happy States like Texas and Florida (and yes, Alabama) are perfectly fine morally.  Of course, this ignores the overall intent of the Catechism’s statement and the lived practice of Pope John Paul himself.  But that is another matter…

By claiming that Pope Francis’ rejection of the principle of “trickle-down economics” is mistaken, it is too simple a step for others today to reject the principle of the poor as our brothers and sisters.  And this is the “forest” that Pope Francis is trying to put into focus. 

Needless to say, the Holy Father has the principles of the Bible, the words of Jesus, and the teaching of the Church Fathers as the continuous trajectory from which his thought proceeds.  So why (and how) can some Catholics find so much to reject?

It seems to me that when some Catholics take moral stands in a rather sanguine way (even if they are intensely involved emotionally) it is too often when it offers a chance to point a finger at another person.  In condemning abortion, for example, it is something someone else does; we would never do such a thing.  When capital punishment is defended, it is because it is something someone else has done; we haven’t committed that horrible crime.

But Pope Francis’ words are now a critique of us.  We live in the most privileged society, economically speaking, in world history.  We also live in what is possibly the most self-absorbed society in human history, as well.  And there is a vast inequality of life-style between us and much of the rest of the world, in terms of standard of living, of educational opportunity, of access to medical care…  In short, too many people in the world live in conditions that degrade human dignity.

Should all nations be democracies, just like America?  No.  Should all nations have the standard of living of America?  No.  Are all countries governed by leaders whose integrity is uncorrupted?  No. 

But should world hunger and disease exist on the level that it does?  No, not if we Catholics were to take seriously the dogma of the Body of Christ, and the words of Jesus in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

The Pope is saying that the wealthy have too much wealth spend on self, and that the poor are too regularly ignored or rejected for the sake of the wealthy keeping their wealth for their personal pleasure. 

Worse, we not only take for granted our “birthright” of wealth, but we waste much of what we have as our food.  Is it an accident that we are one of the most obese nations?  How much food is regularly thrown away at restaurants because they over-size portions? 

One does think of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus…

And when the wealthy and privileged (aka, much of the Catholic Church in the United States) hear the Pope’s challenges, we become uncomfortable and search for reasons to justify rejecting his message.  I said “we” deliberately because I feel the challenge and I know that he convicts me in my own life-style and lack of commitment to be a brother to the poor.

Where do we start?  One way is to make a pledge to eliminate, insofar as is possible, waste of food in our own lives.  It requires discipline (and time) to do this—to buy only so much fresh food, for example, as can easily be eaten in a day or two.  Italian grandmothers know this instinctively:  they shop every day at the markets, buy what’s fresh, and then prepare and eat it.  How often do we “stock up” and then throw away?

I have seen the level of poverty in which some people live, in Haiti and rural Mexico (and in some parts of rural Alabama).  Can I eliminate it?  No.  But can it motivate me to live more responsibly and generously, so that I waste less and have more to give—to agencies like Catholic Relief Services that work to ease the suffering of the poor?  Yes I can. 

I could probably cut my life-style and annual income in half and still live royally compared with much of the world.  How much do I want to reduce, for the sake of generosity?  And:  can I do this with evangelical Gospel joy?  This is the challenge of the economic portion of Evangelii Gaudium that some folks don’t want to face.

Are we guilty of perpetuating a "throw-away culture," a "culture of waste" while others in our world starve? Here is Pope Francis' prayer:

O God, you entrusted to us the fruits of all creation so that we might care for the earth and be nourished with its bounty.
You sent us your Son to share our very flesh and blood and to teach us your Law of Love.
Through His death and resurrection, we have been formed into one human family.
Jesus showed great concern for those who had no food – even transforming five loaves and two fish into a banquet that served five thousand and many more.
We come before you, O God, conscious of our faults and failures, but full of hope, to share food with all members in this global family.
Through your wisdom, inspire leaders of government and of business, as well as all the world’s citizens, to find just, and charitable solutions to end hunger by assuring that all people enjoy the right to food.

Thus we pray, O God, that when we present ourselves for Divine Judgment, we can proclaim ourselves as “One Human Family” with “Food for All”. Amen.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


People have asked me my thoughts on the killing of Trayvon Martin and the trial/verdict of George Zimmerman, and here they are.  But this is not a coherent essay:  I have no coherent thoughts at all, only random reflections…

I have no idea what really happened that night when Trayvon Martin was killed, other than that George Zimmerman shot him.  Was it self-defense?  Was Trayvon high on “drank”?  Was it criminally liable over-reaction on the part of George Zimmerman?  I don’t know.

Did George Zimmerman “profile” Trayvon Martin?  Probably; sadly, so do I, all too often.  Do you?  The news media also profiled in their original pictures of a happy, clean-cut and young Trayvon versus a seedy-looking George Zimmerman.  Were they playing the “Here’s the picture; now you know the answer” game?

Could there not have been a conversation, that night, to the effect of “Hey, you—what’re you doing here?”  “Hey, man—I live here.”  “Oh. OK.”  Why did this conversation not happen?

Shooting seems extremely excessive in the context of a fight.  Was Trayvon on top?  How?  Was he unarmed?  Yes, but how badly must a person be beaten before he/she is justified in considering his/her life seriously threatened?  And how badly was George Zimmerman beaten, in fact?

I’m sure there was a procedural answer to this, but I don’t know it:  why only six jurors?  And why were they all women?  People think the jury was stacked in Mr Zimmerman’s favor, but the prosecution had rights to strike jurors—why were they satisfied with this make-up?

Would a lesser charge have been more “provable”?  I’m thinking reckless homicide, for example, rather than 2nd degree murder.  When someone is dead by mistake, it seems that there should be some form of punishment or retribution or recompense… (unless, of course, you are OJ Simpson:  “If the glove don’t fit…”)

Trayvon has been compared to Emmit Till and Medgar Evers.  The first comparison is a stretch; the second is ridiculous.

Was the cause of justice served by this decision?  Of course—“justice” is whatever the justice system hands down.  That doesn’t mean the cause of right was served. 

I love the comment of the Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida:  “I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman would have offered Trayvon Martin a ride to get out of the rain that night” (paraphrased). 

Once again, the bottom line:  I don’t know what really happened that night.  But I am terribly sorry that it did happen.  A boy is dead; his family is devastated; a man’s life is in shambles, and he is unsafe now, wherever he is.  No one wins, in spite of the verdict. 

Are we still racially focused as a country?  Of course we are (witness our greater obsession with Latinos as undocumented aliens).  We need to get beyond this kind of moral myopia.  Speaking of immigrants, Pope Francis’ comments are germane here:  “Where is your brother?” God asked Cain after the murder of Abel.   “Who was neighbor to the man who fell in with thieves?” Jesus asked the scholar of the Law.  We need to learn that different doesn’t have to involve a “better or worse” judgment; rather, one of complementarity.  What I need, you may well have.  St Paul, millennia ago, warned the Corinthians about this attitude:  the body must have many parts, all different, all complementary, in order to function. 

When he finally dies, I would love it if George Zimmerman had to meet Trayvon Martin and engage in a “truth and reconciliation commission” sort of sit-down as his “purgatory.”  Insofar as Trayvon is innocent and George is guilty, he’ll have to ask forgiveness, and Trayvon will be able to grant it; and if the situation is the opposite, the roles will have to be reversed.  But may they enter the Kingdom together, the two of them better off than most of us are here now.

Friday, July 5, 2013


This will not be the most popularly approved blog-post I ever write, but I hope at least that it will not generate hate-mail, even as it will generate posts that strongly disagree.  That’s OK.

Is it too fast for a declaration of the sainthood of Pope John Paul II?  My personal take is that the answer is yes, especially in the context of a Church for which “one day is like a thousand years…” (II Peter 3:8).  After all, it has been only 8 years since that April in 2005 when John Paul passed to the judgment seat of God and the throne of grace (Romans 14:10; Hebrews 4:16).  Blessed (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta has been dead since 1997, after all, and it was 66 years before Ignatius Loyola was “raised to the altars.” 
Some will object that John Paul is not worthy of canonization because of his failure to deal effectively and comprehensively with the evil of sexual abuse of minors by clergy.  And no doubt he did not, especially with regard to Marciel Degollado of the Legionnaires of Christ.  I am willing to entertain the possibility that this was less because of lack of moral fiber and more a matter of lack of understanding.  He was, in my mind, similarly myopic with regard to the plight of the sufferings thousands in Central and South America—too convinced that “preferential option for the poor” was Marxism ‘writ large.’  He had little time, for example, for Archbishop Oscar Romero.  And even after his martyrdom (I use the word deliberately) he somehow remained persona non grata at the Vatican.  A Polish pope would be expected to have no time for anything that resembled the philosophy of communism.  I will always wonder, though, when and to what extent the effects of the Parkinson’s really “kicked in” and deprived him of the focus, energy and acumen he’d once had—without which perhaps he could not face the problematic realities of the Church.  Even a cursory reading of his encyclicals shows this:  when he was in his fullest powers his writings were heavily philosophical (think Laborem Exercens); later, the encyclicals were more and more readable (think Centesimus Annus or Ut Unum Sint).

Nevertheless, I am also sympathetic to the point of view that people can be mistaken in their thoughts and behaviors and yet also holy people.  This veers dangerously into the area of personal piety as a “trump card” for public awareness and conduct, but the alternative is equally dangerous:  the thought that all saints must somehow be perfect in all things (and, by implication, on the basis of their own efforts). 
Yet there was an incredible charisma about Pope John Paul II—manifested in his world-wide pastoral visits and the beginning of World Youth Day.  I was in Rome for World Youth Day 2000, and I cannot begin to describe to you the emotional and spiritual impact I felt in watching the Holy Father at the evening vigil at Tor Vergata.  Nor will I ever forget watching the video of his climbing to the Western Wall in Jerusalem to place there a prayer asking forgiveness.  And I will remember as long as I live the day he was shot and almost killed.  I will savor with deep gratitude visual of his going to forgive and speak with Mehmet Ali Agca in prison.  He was deeply in love with the Blessed Mother and the Church (perhaps in large part because of the loss of his own family at so young an age?).  The devotion was infectious.

So do I have a “love-hate” relationship with Pope John Paul II?  No.  But I do have a “love-wait” relationship.  Let history play itself out a bit longer, I would have said.  But having said all that, John Paul II will forever also have an emotional place in my heart.  After all, I sang for him!  And I pray the inspiration he will effect in others’ hearts will be the full flower of his motto, Totus Tuus—I am completely yours, Lord:  no matter what the cost.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Men of St Joseph have a new reason to cheer:  today the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has authorized the addition of St Joseph's name to be inserted into Eucharistic Prayers II, III & IV (by order of Blessed Pope John XXIII his name was already added to Eucharistic Prayer I--the "Roman Canon"--during the time of the Second Vatican Council).

If you like, this completes the portrait of the Holy Family in our Eucharistic worship, and it reminds us that all roles in life that are love-based and faithfully done are blessed.  Mary was specially chosen for a unique role in the history of our salvation in Christ; Joseph, no less so.  Too often relegated to the shadows and backdrop of the life of the Savior (almost like he was simply painted onto the scenery), still his presence was critical for the human formation of the Son of God--also known as "the carpenter," or "the son of the carpenter." 

From St Joseph Jesus no doubt learned two central lessons:  hard work, and good work.  These are lessons we all can take to heart, as men in families, as workers in our own sphere of activity, as people who involve themselves (male or female) in active love in the world.

So:  welcome, St Joseph!  May our praise for your dedication be a source of joy for you in your place in the Kingdom!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


What do Catholics and Buddhists have in common?  More than we might perhaps think.  The conclusions below come from a Vatican-sponsored colloquium (the 4th annual one, in fact) on 6 May 2013.  Buddhists from eight different countries were represented.  The points of contact below are worth thinking about: 

4. For Christians, sin in all its forms - selfishness and violence, greed and the inordinate desire for power and dominion, intolerance, hatred and unjust structure – ruptures the communion between God and us and among ourselves. The restoration of peace necessarily requires liberation from sin and its rejection. Jesus Christ restored the broken divine-human communion. Peace is therefore the state of those who live in harmony with God, with themselves, with others and with the whole of creation.
5. As regards Buddhists, Buddha Sakyamuni taught that the root of all evil is ignorance and false views based on greed or hatred and he discovered the Four Noble Truths as a path of liberation from suffering to Nirvana. Accordingly the ethics and mental purity are but two aspects of the same path of practice: the stillness of meditation and working for the liberation of all beings from their suffering sustained by the third aspect of the path: wisdom. In fact, the real Buddhist compassion flows from the awareness of the substantial identity and unity of all beings, a Wisdom that is deeply rooted in the contemplative practice.
6. In both the Christian and Buddhist journeys, therefore, inner freedom, purification of the heart, compassion and the gift of self are the essential conditions for the inner peace of the individual as well as for social peace.
7. In spite of differences, both Buddhist and Christian ethical teaching on respect for life is a search for common good based on loving kindness and compassion. The participants expressed that dialogue between Buddhists and Christians be strengthened to face new challenges such as threat to human life, poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence, war, etc., which belittle the sanctity of human life and poison peace in human society.
8. The participants recognized that they have a special responsibility in addressing these issues. The desire for cooperation for the well-being of humanity ought to spring from the depth of spiritual experiences. Only inner peace can transform the human heart and make one see in his/her neighbour another brother and sister. If we really want to build a world of peace, it is vitally important that we join forces to educate people, especially the young, to seek peace, to live in peace and to risk working for peace. 

Is it conceivable that the Sermon on the Mount and the Four Noble Truths could lead people and nations to peace together?  Could Jesus and the Buddha walk hand-in-hand?  Why not?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


In a homily he preached this past Sunday at the Patriarchal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, Pope Francis said, in part:
To be sure, the testimony of faith comes in very many forms, just as in a great fresco, there is a variety of colours and shades; yet they are all important, even those which do not stand out. In God’s great plan, every detail is important, even yours, even my humble little witness, even the hidden witness of those who live their faith with simplicity in everyday family relationships, work relationships, friendships. There are the saints of every day, the "hidden" saints, a sort of "middle class of holiness", as a French author said, that "middle class of holiness" to which we can all belong.

The use of “class” in this context begs a series of questions.  First of them, for me, is “Who is the ‘upper class’ of holiness?”  Pope Francis gives a hint, and it isn’t hard to figure this out:  Peter and Paul, Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier, Ignatius of Antioch and Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila and Therese the Little Flower, and so on.  They are (to be vulgar for a second) the “Bill Gateses and the Warren Buffetts” of the Kingdom of God. 
But holiness is a daily thing, as Pope Francis says above:  it’s not limited to the “great and powerful.”  What might that ‘middle class of holiness’ look like?  I want to offer two answers.

The first is how that level of holiness might appear in the Kingdom itself.  For this, I turn to a scene from C S Lewis’ The Great Divorce.   While being given a tour of hell/purgatory/heaven, Lewis and his guide, George Macdonald (who plays Virgil to Lewis’ Dante) encounter a woman surrounded by a train of angels.  Lewis hesitates, thinking to be the Virgin Mary.  He asks, “Is it?...Is it?”…  “Not at all,” said [Macdonald].  “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of.  Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.” 
Heavenly glory is a reflection, then, of the graced living of our lives “here below.”  It has everything to do with the quality of our commitment and faith-walk, and nothing whatever to do with how many people knew about us.  It means, then (offering my second answer), that ‘middle class holiness’ is every bit as important to building the Body of Christ as the ‘upper class,’ the famous ones to whom we look.  And this leads me to Deacon Sam Shippen.

I took part in Sam’s funeral this past Monday in Prattville.  I knew Sam and many of his family for about 30 years.  He was the prayer-captain (“palanca boss”) of the Cursillo weekend I made, and I worked a number of other weekends with him.  Much of his life was given over to prison ministry, a ministry I shared (peripherally) with him for some years.  He was a man of grace, of gentleness, of humility, and of goodness.  I always felt myself a better disciple for being around him.

He is a captain, I am sure, in the “middle class of holiness” that Pope Francis spoke of.  Outside our circle of relationships, no one would know Sam’s name.  But those that did know it will never forget it.  And I am one of them.  If I but could attain to the “middle class of holiness” I would be forever blessed…


Monday, April 8, 2013


I offer the picture below from L'Osservatore Romano (via Rocco Palmo and Whispers in the Loggia) as a visual that leads me to a fundamental question:

Is this a view of the papacy that (while still being Primus inter pares) would be a papacy of service and humility?  If there is any kind of "exercise" of primacy that can be fundamentally tied to this image, how many barriers of division between the churches might be able to be swept away?

As Hamlet would put it, "'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished."

Friday, March 29, 2013


Here is my Easter wish and hope, expressed in contemporary music but powerful as the promise of resurrection and eternal life.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!! 

Please feel free (and encouraged!) to skip the ad at the bottom...


Here, in English translation, is an excerpt from Pope Francis’ homily in the  youth incarceration center for the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper this Holy Thursday:


“…we don’t have to wash each other’s feet each day. So what does this mean? That we have to help each other…sometimes I would get angry with one someone, but we must let it go and if they ask a favor, do it!
Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service. But it is a duty that comes from my heart and a duty I love. I love doing it because this is what the Lord has taught me. But you too must help us and help each other, always. And thus in helping each other we will do good for each other.”
It strikes me that this message to imprisoned youth is similar to the word given by God (aka, George Burns) in Oh, God!:  “It can work.  And be kind to one another.”

The New Covenant is indeed simple:  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  The Original Covenant is also simple:  “Love the LORD your God with all your heart…Love your neighbor…Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”  NOT easy—just simple.  And we don’t do it—why?  Because we don’t get it?  Or, perhaps, because we do??  Let’s try a little helping, a little forgiveness.  It can work…

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I've had problems with access and have not been able to write on the blog for several days now.  I hope the situation will be corrected soon for my study's laptop computer.

Meanwhile, a blessed Holy Week to all.  Today in Mobile we celebrate the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral, which features the blessing of all anointing oils that will be used in our Archdiocese this year.  Priests also renew their priestly promises, and may we all live them faithfully in Him.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Faced with Catholics who love the church but who hold dissenting views, Wuerl said, “In the pulpit, we’re supposed to present the teaching with all of its unvarnished clarity, but when you step out of the pulpit, you have to meet people where they are and try to walk with them.

This comment comes in the course of an interview with National Catholic Reporter's John Allen and others in Rome, as the Congregations (meetings of cardinals before the actual conclave) are about to begin.

It is crucial to his style as a "centrist" in the American Catholic Church (I guess it's no accident he's the Archbishop of Washington, DC) and highly thought of by Pope Benedict XVI (he was named "general secretary" of the last bishops' synod, on the new evangelization).

But his thinking mirrors that of a comment made years ago by the Catholic novelist Graham Greene, who said something to the effect:  You priests are harsh beyond belief when you preach in the pulpit, but you are human and understanding in wonderful ways in the confessional.  The trouble is, we novelists write in the confessional, and you priests judge us from the pulpit.
Wuerl's approach resonates also with that of the patron saint of parish priests, St Jean Vianney.  A parishioner of his was asked once if the Cure of Ars preached much, and the response was, "Oh, yes--long sermons:  always about hell!"  Yet in the confessional (his favorite place to minister) he would often impose penances that he himself would perform on the penitent's behalf.

He understood; Greene understood; Wuerl understands.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


On the Vatican's website today is posted the following notice:

    Mercoledì 13 febbraio 2013, alle ore 17, nella Basilica Vaticana, il Santo Padre Benedetto XVI celebrerà la Santa Messa con il rito di benedizione e di imposizione delle ceneri.

  • [Wednesday 13 February 2013, at 5:00 pm, in the Vatican Basilica, the Holy Father Benedict XVI will celebrate Holy Mass with the Rite of Benediction and the imposition of ashes.]

    This doesn't sound too dramatic, until you remember that the tradition of the popes is to begin Ash Wednesday evening with a procession from Sant' Anselmo on the Aventine Hill to Santa Sabina, the first of the "Station Churches," for Mass and imposition of ashes.  And in fact it was so announced, only a few days ago, on 29 January.  So Pope Benedict is pulling away from the responsibilities of the Chair of Peter already, it seems...

    Monday, February 11, 2013


    If what I was speculating above were to come to pass, it would give a whole new meaning to "World Youth Day."

    Alternatively, it's also possible that WYD (or in Italian GMG:  Giornata Mondiale del Gioventu) might wind up being a homecoming...


    It is stunning news which comes today, that Pope Benedict XVI, effective the end of February, will become the first Pope since St Celestine V (end of the 13th century) to resign.  I don't recall writing about it earlier, but I made no secret of my judgment that Benedict's health was very poor, based on my seeing him last month at a General Audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall during my visit to Italy.  There were several clues that morning:

    He came in 10 minutes late for the audience, something he normally would never do.
    His Italian, once notably "Germanic" in pronunciation and for me very easy to listen to and understand, was this time slurred and very difficult for me to catch.  This was true, sadly, even when he offered a "summary" of his address in English.  Ironically, I understood him best when he did his "summary" in Spanish.
    He moved slowly and looked very thin and haggard of face.
    He needed several drinks of water to get through even the actual (Italian) speech.
    It is hard to escape the conclusion that there is something going on here beyond merely the aging process...

    In 2004 I found myself in Rome during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Vatican II Decree Unitatis Redintegratio, the document on ecumenism.  The events culminated in Evening Prayer in St Peter's, which I attended.  On that occasion, Pope John Paul II was literally wheeled in, and he began an address to the participants of the event.  But after only a few sentences, he started choking and gasping.  Cardinal Kasper had to finish the speech for him.  I knew then that things were not good, and from that time on we had Pope John Paul II in our weekend Prayers of the Faithful.  He died only a few months later, in April 2005.  It should be obvious that I write this recollection because my heart is perceiving a connection.  It makes me wonder, too, if Benedict was a friend who encouraged John Paul to resign because of his health (an encouragement, of course, rejected the the Pope).

    If there is one great regret in Pope Benedict for his resignation, I believe it is his not being able to preside over the canonization of Bl John Henry Newman (a canonization which, when it happens, I will swim the Atlantic if necessary to attend). 

    Some time in Lent a conclave will be summoned to elect a new pontiff.  Just a suggestion:  you might want to keep your eyes turned toward Manila...

    Thursday, January 10, 2013


    I will be heading away for some private down time—to Assisi and Rome.  Yes, I’ve been there before (over 40 times to Assisi, for instance).  Why am I going again?  For that matter, why do I go at all?
    For me, it’s a chance to have a breather from the sturm und drang of ministry—a chance to re-charge.  But why do I go to those places in particular?  I cannot answer without being more specific:  the churches of San Damiano in Assisi, and Sant’ Agostino, San Paolo fuori le Mura, and Il Gesù in Rome.  And I must also observe that it’s why I return to Chicago every summer—yes, to visit friends and family there, but my Job #1 is a section of Resurrection Cemetery in the suburb of Worth.  It’s all about prayer and connectivity.

    My Dad always loved the Jesuits, and it was his encouragement that got me to St Ignatius HS.  Of course, he loved Notre Dame too, and it was his encouragement that got me there, but that’s a different story.  I remember him and myself together when I pray the Rosary in Il Gesù—the final resting place of St Ignatius Loyola and of (a part of, anyway) St Francis Xavier.  And I remember being in that church for the incredible Mass commemorating the 30 day anniversary of the martyrdom of the Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador in 1989.  I’m impressed by nothing in that church so much as the associations of family, witness and prayer.  And so I go back.]

    That leads me to St Paul’s.  For whatever reason, in 1989, when I’d returned to seminary, my Dad who had died in 1986 was heavy on my mind, and so I went to this church to pray for him on his birthday.  Two things are true that will stay with me forever:  I prayed the Rosary for him in the Eucharistic chapel which was where Ignatius and his early companions spent a night in vigil, after which they took the vows that formed them into the original Jesuits.  But I had an epiphany that day at that church with a Gypsy woman.  She was begging, using her baby and toddler as “props.”  She asked of me, and I told her I’d see when I came back out.  And leaving the church after my Rosary for him, I wondered what my Dad might do, or want me to do.  So I sat down and talked with the Gypsy.  She was a beggar (a professional one), but she was not a thief.  And the children were charming.  I talked with her, talked with the little one, held the baby, and gave her some money, and she was thankful—and I’d touched the face of God.  And so I go back.

    My Mom died in 2005, but she lamented over her kids enough to mimic St Monica, the Mother of the famous sinner-turned-bishop/theologian, St Augustine.  And her remains (transferred from a church in Ostia, outside Rome) are in a chapel near the high altar, to the left.  And for Mom I also pray a Rosary there.  Part of the original tombstone from Ostia is on that wall, as well as her sarcophagus.  I miss her as well (we’re truly orphans when both parents die, no matter how old we are).  And so I go back.
    San Damiano is my own personal connection from the very first time I set foot in there, in 1983.  I was overcome with the prayerfulness of the place, and when I had the chance I would stay for Evening Prayer with the friars—a spiritual experience not to be missed.  It enriches me for its simplicity and beauty (like the Evening Prayer I used to enjoy with the Communità di Sant’ Egidio).  And so I go back.

    The cemetery is where my Father and Mother and baby brother are buried.  I trim around the headstones, place roses, and I sit in my portable chair and pray the Rosary for them.  It’s what I do, who I am thanks to them, and I will continue to hold on.
    Why do I go back?  How could I not?  We are a sacramental people, after all, and we instinctively understand the power and importance of things and place.  Are my prayers “better” in those places?  No—but they strengthen me more for their association, and that’s reason enough to return.

    There are many churches that I love in these two places, churches that I have not mentioned in this context:  San Francesco and Santa Chiara in Assisi; St Peter’s, St Mary Major, St Prassede, St Sabina, and more in Rome (all of which have their own power over me, but different).  They are wonderful, but (no, not even St Peter’s) essential to my spiritual reality.  I’ll visit the others, to be sure, but don’t have to, not in the same way that I have to pray in those other churches.

    And so I go back--of course I do.  Where do you go?