Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

31 May 2014

He Blinded Me With Silence

The Apostles were gathered with the Holy Mother, “devot[ing] themselves with one accord to prayer” (Ac 1:14). That is to say, they expressed with unity and fervor their desire to respond to the wise and loving Creator whose initiative always anticipates our own. Together they formed the heart of the infant Church who awaited the promised Holy Spirit, the seal of adoption as God’s Beloved Sons. Having received Our Lord’s call to unity, holiness, and mission, most notably at the very mountain of His Ascension (cf. Mt 28:20), the Apostles hunkered down for their first novena, imploring the divine empowerment needed to bring the Church to term. This grace God promises in abundant measure not only to the Apostles and their successors the Bishops, but to all who seek Him earnestly; and this great legacy of teaching, liturgy, morality, and prayer is found most reliably in the Holy Catholic Church (cf. CCC 1-3).

I’d bet that the Apostles’ novena included as much silence as speech. Like any conversation, prayer ideally includes both elements. The philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once attributed all the world’s problems to people not being able to sit quietly by themselves in an empty room. For this malaise we must thank the untamed ego that asserts itself “every which way but loose,” fruitlessly seeking to fill the God-sized hole in our hearts.

In St. Peter’s first epistle we are warned of the difference between suffering for noble causes such as our faith, and suffering as a result of evils we have committed. Now it is true that the sins of our past may cause us hardship, but even this can purify and strengthen us as we daily commend ourselves to the Lord. Peter is speaking here about those who are not at first inclined to repent of their evils. Note the categories he mentions: “a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer” (1Pe 4:13).

That last one, translated “intriguer,” is curious: ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος is a person who watches over another person’s business—a meddler, a mischief-maker. Placed in the same category as a murderer! We are not talking about someone who is merely impolite, or who lacks clear boundaries. The intentional stirring-up of jealousies, confusion, irritation, gossip, criticism, and discord is a sin! Suddenly it isn’t so strange to think that Pope Francis has preached so often and vehemently about these matters in his daily homilies and weekly addresses, and this without ignoring other infractions of the Ten Commandments.

The tender prayer of Jesus to His Father precedes His paschal “hour” of suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. In it He offers to the Father you, and me, and every human person who has ever lived or who will ever live. Jesus’ prayer further reveals His clear focus on doing His Father’s will steadfastly and serenely, despite the drama that surrounded His earthly life, from the intrigue of infancy to the commotion of Calvary. Wouldn’t you like to live with such quiet strength, come what may? So would I. Let’s sit quietly in a room for a little while, and see what happens.

24 May 2014

Another Advocate

In Saint John’s Gospel, Jesus referred to “another Advocate,” specifically the Holy Spirit, whom the Father has sent into the world to reinforce the deeds and words of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the soul of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church; He is the Church’s living memory, her source of both challenge and encouragement. Jesus curiously says, “The world cannot accept [the Spirit], because it neither sees nor knows him.” People who are not concerned with anything beyond the material, the scientifically verifiable, would have no part with the Holy Spirit. Their church is little more than a soulless zombie, or perhaps a blob that assumes the shape of its container.

The Spirit is the “Advocate” (in Greek, Paraclete): One who is literally called to a person’s side, like a defense attorney. Followers of Christ, sons and daughters of the Church, need this Advocate to help us become witnesses to our faith. Younger Catholics should remember the official definition of Confirmation that the Bishop asked them: “Confirmation is the sacrament in which the Holy Spirit comes to us in a special way to join us more closely to Jesus and His Church, and to seal and strengthen us as Christ’s witnesses.” 

To riff upon our Bishop’s motto, the Spirit invests us with holiness (union with the Lord and others) and mission (service to the Lord and others); He delivers them in the form of His seven gifts, and we are known to have them in our exemplification of His twelve fruits. (Don’t know what the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit are? Look them up!)

If we’re baptized and confirmed Catholics, we ought to know and treasure who we are and what we believe, and we ought to be willing to stand up for it in the face of opposition. Last week our Commonwealth joined numerous other states in permitting same-sex marriages. This decision has been met at once with thunderous applause and thunderous outcry; but the most noteworthy response has been silence. 

Most Catholics know, and some are, persons who experience attraction to the same sex. Few, I suspect, know the Church’s teachings enough to distinguish attraction from action (attraction of itself is not sinful, while action is); and fewer still are prepared to defend those teachings. They might consider the Church’s position a condemnation of our brothers and sisters—or of themselves—but fail to recognize the deepest truths at stake; or, however dimly they may recognize the truths, they are afraid to speak of them for fear of being considered a “hater,” “insensitive” and “unenlightened.” Understandably they may not want to be labeled a “hypocrite,” much less get roped in with a Church who has endured the same criticism, often justifiably. Or they may feel ill equipped against the prevailing arguments, with their appeals to “love,” “equality,” and the like. 

In so many respects, as we get to know human beings and their stories, we find that we can no longer hide behind positions. We begin to love persons while not condoning their sinful actions. We are moved to look more squarely at our own lives, to notice where we also have some conversion and growth ahead of us. A comfortable Catholicism fails to satisfy, because a Fire has been lit beneath us!

We should be grateful for our Catholic faith, and we should be ready to offer people “a reason for the hope” within us; but only if we call upon our Advocate to help us affirm the truth clearly and lovingly. Having done our best with that, the results are not our business.

17 May 2014

Fit To Be Tied

The Blessed Virgin Mary, the God-Bearer, is the first and greatest beneficiary of her Son's gift of salvation. Attention to her role in the Divine Economy is not optional. The Rosary, the Angelus and Regina Cæli, the Memorare, the Litany of Loreto, and other prayers are staples of Marian devotion. Love for Mary appropriately directs us to Jesus.

A couple of years ago, an RCIA sponsor told me about the devotion to "Mary, Undoer of Knots (hereafter, MUK)" That was the first time I'd ever heard of it. He may have told me that Pope Benedict was fond of the devotion, especially because a church in Germany has an image of Mary under that epithet.

A parishioner recently recommended that I publicize a novena to MUK, which you may find helpful.

The longer I live, the longer I serve, the more germane this devotion seems to me. Human persons, are made in the image of God with freedom and understanding, with the capacity to choose the good, to know the truth, and to appreciate the beautiful; yet we get ourselves in many a bind by the misuse of those sacred powers. Drama often poses problems both interpersonal and intra-personal: not the kind of "mess" that Pope Francis encouraged people to create, but rather the destructive kind.

Sometimes it seems that we cannot help creating or getting into binds; but Our Lady always can help us if we but come to her in faith.

15 May 2014

Be Attentive

One of my parishioners recently told me that she needs to listen to her heart more than to her head, as she has found her head to be unreliable and unclear. For various reasons I have preferred my head, though I have often experienced a similar result.

Yesterday I found myself in the hospital intending to visit parishioners. The only thing was, I didn't have a list of who was in the hospital because, when I called for names, nobody knew how to operate the system and therefore couldn't tell me anything. Since I was driving near one hospital I thought I'd stop in and see whether I could recognize anyone by name or face. (I've been at this parish long enough to be able to do that by now – at least parishioners I see regularly, either in church or in the hospital.) You can say that I went in not knowing whom I was supposed to be visiting. For that reason I traversed the corridors with a greater sense of observation than usual, which prompted me to notice and greet hospital staff members. I did see one woman whose name looked familiar. Although it turned out she was not a parishioner, she was from another parish and was the mother of a man whom I knew well. Later I found out that she hadn't been visited by a priest for a couple of days, so she was glad to see me.

As I headed toward the lobby ready to leave, it occurred to me: did I forget to walk through that one section? I had an appointment coming up, so (thought I to myself) I'd better get going. But wouldn't it be my luck if I found out a parishioner was on that unit and I never saw him! I guess you could say I listened to my heart, because I decided to go back up to the section I thought I hadn't checked.

As a result of that decision, I got to visit a relative of one of our deceased priests of happy memory. I shared fond memories of our acquaintance, dating back to when I was first ordained and would see him along my travels and at priest gatherings.

Then, as I passed another room, the occupant had her back to me (she was seated in a wheelchair) but her visitor noticed me. I wondered whether she might be a parishioner because I thought I recognized her name, but it turns out she wasn't. Her visitor, however, began to tell me that she was intrigued by my beard. She figured I was Catholic, but wondered for a moment whether I was an Orthodox Jew. I assured her that I was not, adding that others have mistaken me for an Amish person, or perhaps an Orthodox Christian. (And to think that I trimmed the beard a couple of weeks ago!)

There was nothing profoundly spiritual about the beard comments, but the rest of the story has spiritual ramifications: I came into a situation with a certain openness, and, I believe, was rewarded with experiences I might have missed had I been in a different frame of soul. Now I don't claim to be any sort of spiritual master, especially as my spiritual condition fluctuates throughout the course of any given day; but there is something to following your heart and leading with it.

10 May 2014

Fruitfulness in Home and Church

We have mentioned before that this is the “Springtime of the Church,” what with First Holy Communions, Baptisms and Confirmations, and soon, Ordinations. Next week, Bishop Barres will ordain two men to the Diaconate: Brendon Laroche and Jared Zambelli. In June, he will ordain four men to the Priesthood: James Harper (from HGA), Daniel Kravatz, Kevin Lonergan, and Mark Searles. We pray that the Church will experience continued fruitfulness in every respect.

The theme of fruitfulness is apt for our reflection today (Sunday readings here). Americans are celebrating Mothers Day. Mothers cooperate most intimately in the generation and development of human beings. They are often the first to teach prayers, to drag children to Mass, and otherwise to give example of humanity and holiness. They can be a child’s most reliable seamstress, boo-boo kisser, and constructive critic. The image of a shepherd’s recognizable voice certainly applies to the Mom who calls for the kids to come in for dinner (or, perhaps, who texts them to come downstairs for it). Many a mother has wept for and pleaded with a child who has strayed from the faith or from the family. Mothers tend to want abundant life for their children, in imitation of the desire Jesus expressed for His brothers and sisters: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Mothers (and fathers) understandably want their children to prosper in every imaginable way.

When it comes to spiritual, particularly vocational fruitfulness, I can’t help but wonder if, in many cases, parents don’t consider, much less endorse, the priesthood and consecrated life for their children—at least not for long, before other ideas smack it down. My guess is that the prospect of grandchildren has the most appeal, although some might prefer their kids to have a more lucrative career or something else. I’ll bet that some parents could have a deep-seated, fearful aversion to the idea that “one of my children should become a priest/nun.” The reasons for such an aversion are worth exploring, but that’s a post for another day.

I can speak only for myself and, I trust, for my family. My late father didn’t often share tender sentiments, but he was visibly proud of me and honored the path I took. Any legitimate, moral occupation that suited me was fine by him. My mother put all her eggs in one basket, and she couldn’t be happier; in any case, she would rather not get in God’s way when it came to my life. In a manner of speaking, she gets to have many grandchildren, and doesn’t have to change any of their diapers. With understandable bias, I consider my parents’ attitude toward my vocation as one that should be normative for parents, whatever vocation their children choose.

A good parent is a good shepherd who takes cues from Jesus and the Church—from the wisdom of His teachings, from the fidelity of her saints. Good parents strive to place their gifts and faults, their strengths and limitations, at the service of the Lord and their children. They are interested in what their children want and need: whatever pertains to their health, their safety, and their salvation. We pray that our children will stay close to their families and to the Church, to learn the Lord’s loving intentions for their lives, so that they may freely and joyfully cooperate in those intentions each day.

08 May 2014

Just Sowing Seeds

I have written before on St. Thomas Aquinas' Eucharistic hymn Pange Lingua Gloriosi. The second verse is my favorite:

Nobis datus, nobis natus / ex Maria Virgine, / et in mundo conversatus / sparso Verbi semine / sui moras incolatus / miro clausit ordine.
Given to us, born for us from Mary the Virgin, and, sowing the seed of the Word during His earthly sojourn, He removed the hindrances with wonderful order. (my translation)

Jesus did not become flesh simply to go through the drama of the Paschal Mystery, or for that matter, to carry out His entire earthly life and ministry. The Incarnation is God's permanent investment in human nature and in the entirety of all its participants' lives.

By virtue of His ministry and Mystery the Lord definitely intended the formation of His Church as the living Sacrament--the material communication--of His Divine Person. Now we can declare with delight that there are no more "hindrances," for the lives of the righteous who lived before Christ have come into their fulfillment because they have become united to Christ, the Head and Spouse of the Church.

My focus for the current post (and I have one), is the role of Catholic blogging in terms of sowing "the seed of the Word" in the world online and off. Like most people, the better part of my occupation involves interactions with brick-and-mortar human persons. I should say, however, along the lines of the sister of Martha, that conversation with God is the "better part" of my business (cf. Lk 10:42).

An article on "The Point of Catholic Blogging," from the UK's Catholic Herald, inspires my current thoughts. The title calls it a "debate," but I think the article presents it more as a symposium. Harnessing the Internet for the sake of the Gospel is a fearsome enterprise. The Internet is fuel. The combustible engines (programs, applications, websites, and blogs) that employ it are as diverse as the intentions of their operators. And we often forget that we all share the same roadways.

Responsible use of the Internet engages and fosters virtue--specifically, the "cardinal" or human virtues prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. These acquired powers belong in every endeavor, but most especially online, as that's where so many of us so often "converse in the world."

The Herald article features five noteworthy voices in the Catholic virtual domain. I particularly appreciate the offering of the fifth and final contributor, Elizabeth Scalia. She highlights the ministerial aspects of Internet use. Since the Internet affords people an instantly accessible voice, Scalia notes that people now can ask, answer, and expect answers to questions "in real time," meaning now. (I grant that it isn't much different for those who field telephone calls.) To return to the hymnic reflection above, there is no time to delay; or the delay must be "ended with wonderful order." Ms. Scalia calls it "the tidy, almost transactional resolution of spiritual matters." This aspect of Online Life intensifies stress in those who are predisposed to stress. We have to "think on our feet," and that is a good thing. 

Our seminary mentors warned us that when we're hearing people's confessions, nobody is going to ask us what degrees we have, or how we did on our exams. They're just going to ask us questions--questions that they'd ask whether we were the class valedictorian or the one who scraped by. As the joke goes, "What do they call the guy who graduated last in his class in medical school? 'Doctor.'" The passage of time in these past few years has been humbling indeed. It occasionally hits me that the guy who graduated last in our seminary class (whoever he was) may well answer questions more satisfactorily than do I, who graduated closer to the top. All of us are called, and imperfectly strive to live as, "Father."

As a friend reminded me years ago, "we are just sowing seeds." Although we can give a quick answer here and there, the long-haul conversations (on or offline) matter just as much, if not more. It is easy for me to fall into the trap of desiring, indeed expecting, quick results. This applies not only to the gift and mystery of evangelization, but also to friendship; but should not the two converge?

06 May 2014

Drama and Reality

Soon after Stephen and his associates were appointed to the diaconate in Acts 6, Stephen got into trouble--"made a mess," as Pope Francis is fond of saying. Stephen was only speaking the Truth, but people who weren't fond of the Truth started engaging him in debate. His opponents had no success, because they couldn't match his insights and because they did not share in the gift of the [Holy] Spirit as Stephen did.

The persecutors were not open to hearing the Truth from Stephen. They reacted very strongly to his words, and could not bear his angelic, that is, peaceful appearance (cf. Acts 6:15). The story reminds me of what a seminary professor once said: Non-virtuous people are uncomfortable in, often repulsed by, the presence of virtue.

Saint Luke, author of the Acts of the Apostles, said that Stephen's opponents 'instigated" people to make exaggerated and downright false accusations against him. Stephen allegedly was predicting that Jesus would destroy the Temple and change Jewish customs. We know that the Temple eventually would fall to the Romans. That destruction itself changed many of the customs and regulations, especially pertaining to ritual sacrifice. As for dietary laws, the Jews remained bound to observe them, but Christians soon would be exonerated from most of them (cf. Acts 15:22-29).

Let's consider for a moment the concept of "instigation." As a fan of the dictionary, I go there first. The Latin verb instigare comes from in (toward) + stigare (to prick, incite). We can therefore say that Stephen's debaters were...inciters. Modesty forbids use of the other word, though it seems delightfully apt.

I submit that Stephen's instigators depicted the modern use of the term drama and its corresponding adjective, dramatic. According to a contributor at (a site I would not otherwise cite in print), the word is used to describe people who seem to experience and share an inordinate number of personal problems, and who react to everyday matters with intense and shifting emotions. The accuracy of dramatic perceptions doesn't tend to be reliable. Dramatic behavior can be attributed to boredom and a desire for attention.

Within the definition cited above, one can find related words that unfortunately include "crazy," "fake," "high school," and, strange to see, "Facebook." As for Facebook and other social networking sites, I believe they can be used to sow truth, goodness, beauty, and humor as much as their opposites. As always, their use will be determined by their users.

The reality of mental illness has rightly merited a more compassionate regard in recent years. Indeed, a number of the characteristics of "drama" can be identified with borderline personality disorder. Through an honest self-appraisal, however, everyone might discover within themselves a degree of emotional or spiritual sickness, manifested in various "attachments" or addictions that compromise their understanding and freedom. There is no room, therefore, for labeling people. It serves only to distance them from us and make us feel superior to them. Don't we all have a share in the Cross of Christ, so often identifiable with our own faults and weaknesses?

It always has been my interest to help people to grow in responsibility for their decisions, and to accept help for the same in my own life. While illness may make certain ingrained attitudes or behaviors easier to adopt or harder to shake, if we want to be well (Jn 5:2) we must pay close attention to our mental and emotional responses as they occur. It takes time and patience with ourselves, and with others whom we help along the way.

We don't want to excuse the persecutors of the early Church on the basis of a supposed personality disorder. After all, Stephen's persecutors were closed to the knowledge of Reality. Even though our openness may seem minimal some days, we want to govern our thoughts, words, and actions, as well as understand our motives, according to the Truth. This lifelong process requires us to look beyond our limited perceptions. To become "well" is to become honest, responsible, and free. As we seek self-governance with the aid of the Lord's Word, the Sacraments, our daily prayers and sacrifices, the adoption of these disciplines will help us to grow in compassion for others.