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

29 April 2021

Where Thy Glory Dwells

(cf. Wikimedia Commons)

(as featured in the Diocese of Allentown)

Since seventh grade (1988-89) I have played the organ for church, as often as five times a weekend. At first an occasional substitute, finally I reached out to local parishes for regular work, and soon I was picked up by the former St. Francis DeSales Parish in Mount Carbon, suburb of Pottsville.

The sacristan, Kathleen Glaser, called herself the “Assistant Pastor,” and certainly knew as much about the building and community as any assistant. We had many colorful chats before Mass. When Kathleen died, the pastor, now-retired Father Edward B. Connolly, designed her memorial card. Beneath her photo was Psalm 26:8, which reads, “O Lord, I love the habitation of thy house, and the place where thy glory dwells.”

In June 2019, I became pastor of Saints Peter and Paul in Lehighton. In my first visit to the vestibule, I spied above the entrance to the nave that same Bible verse, which connected me to those early experiences that kept me off the streets and in the sanctuary. Upon reaching my seventh assignment in 18 years of priestly ministry, I knew I was home, where God’s glory dwells.

The pandemic is the latest of many changes over these decades. Now 70% of Catholics do not regularly attend Mass in otherwise normal times, and only 25% believe that Jesus is truly, really, and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. These facts prompted Allentown Bishop Alfred A. Schlert to declare this 60th Diocesan Anniversary the “Year of the Real Presence” (yearofrealpresence.org).

Catholics know Christ abides and feeds in many ways, as the Second Vatican Council told us: in the proclaimed Scriptures, in the priest, and in the assembly, but most tangibly in the Holy Eucharist, where His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity pitch their tent among us.

Our new parish Society of Saint Vincent de Paul ritually recalls how Jesus is present wherever two or three are gathered (Matthew 18:20). Saint Teresa of Calcutta often said the needy are among Jesus’ “most distressing disguises”: it can be as hard to see Him in our suffering brothers and sisters as in the consecrated bread and wine. But Mother Teresa’s sisters adore the Eucharistic Lord each day before serving Him in the streets, and our SVDP Conference has chosen to begin our meetings in the same way.

The Missionaries of Charity and the Saint Vincent de Paul Society embody another principle from the same Second Vatican Council: the Sacred Liturgy is the “Source and Summit of the Church’s life and activity”: Christ is everywhere because He is present unmistakably, most intimately, in the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Mass. We take His Real Presence in the Mass to the real people and situations of our lives, which in turn we offer alongside the bread and wine that becomes Him in the Mass.

It makes you wonder, though: if Jesus is here, why isn’t everyone else? Other faiths are asking the same of their own adherents. A global pandemic accounts for the current dearth of ritual involvement, but the “real absence” is nothing new to any religious body; even secular organizations have been reporting diminished returns over the years. In defense of their defection, some have cited God’s ubiquity when choosing to “worship in nature” or to follow some ersatz deity who makes no demands upon their conduct or allows them to worship on their own terms.

Sacred and secular alike, feeling the fatigue and isolation of these days, can take to their lips the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near” (10:25). What day? The Day of the Lord, Whose Presence is real and revealing and worthy of reverence.

22 April 2021

“This Is My Body”

This article appeared in the April 15, 2021 issue of the AD Times, the newspaper of the Diocese of Allentown. Read more about our diocesan goings-on at allentowndiocese.org and ad-today.com.


Bishop Schlert has declared this a diocesan “Year of the Real Presence”: a motive for exceeding gratitude. We note meanwhile the real absence of so many, before and since the onset of the global pandemic. We beg the Lord for the grandest possible reunion this side of eternity, where and while we still happen to be.

Recall how, before Judas handed Jesus over, Jesus pre-emptively handed Himself over, saying “This is My Body” (Mark 14:22). This phrase seems to epitomize the spirt of this special year and just about everything there is to being Catholic.

The immediate and crucial context of the statement was, of course, Eucharistic: the bread and wine of Passover became a New Meal, sealed in the love-offering of the God-Man on the Cross. Jesus never offered a more literal declaration. Grammarians call “is” the copulative verb, because it joins subject and predicate. Bread and wine do not “represent,” “symbolize” or “suggest” His Presence-made-palatable to us: they are He.

Our Lord could utter those words on the night before He died because His mother Mary had lovingly consented to the angel’s invitation to bring Him into the world. In every human respect Our Lady was the first to say, “This is my body,” when she offered herself body and soul to the Holy Spirit’s creative action.

From the streets of Caesarea Philippi to the halls of heaven, Jesus has looked out upon this ragtag bunch and declared, “This is my body”: My Mystical Body, the Church. Since the apostles’ time, fellow disciples and leaders sometimes bewilder, yet what’s more a marvel? The Incarnation still alights upon our altars, pulpits and confessionals, and in every place where prayers, works, joys, and sufferings transform the world and pierce the clouds.

Then there is the furnace of the Christian vocation, considered precisely in the ways spouses, priests and consecrated religious “offer [their] bodies as a spiritual sacrifice”(Romans 12:1). Every well-lived example can say to its counterpart, “This is my body,” when, for example, spouses give themselves without reservation in the one-flesh union of sex, or when a priest attends to the sick and dying.

At the Consecration of the Precious Blood, sometimes I will look up at the chalice, see my reflection and then look down to the faithful. That intimate moment prompts a prophecy cited in the New Testament: “Here I am, and the children God has given me” (Isaiah 8:18; cf. Hebrews 2:13). I cannot be any closer to you, for this is my body – Christ’s Body – distinct from yet united to me.

Sounds romantic, but it must translate into daily life.

It’s easy to become a “bachelor who plays God.” Husbands and wives also can collapse into such a cavalier condition. The sexual realm is not the only possible domain of human degradation, but it’s the one that hurts the most. There’s no comfortable compromise: either a body is “given up for,” or it is not.

Our bodies, given up, convey love with exquisite splendor. Witness Catholic participation in education and healthcare; behold the beauty of our sacred music and architecture. Faithful, lifelong, heroic commitments compel like any well-articulated doctrine.

The Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostolic Succession, the interiority of the spousal embrace, and the lived exteriority of beauty, goodness, and truth: this is Real Presence that can unite us as God intends.

22 March 2021

Measure Ten Times, Cut Twelve

I should call my original coat of arms “Well Enough,” because I couldn’t leave it alone.

With all due respect to Luis of Reidarmas.com, I started picking at his lovely rendering, and you know what happens when you keep picking at something: it gets infected. What got the ball rolling was my curiosity as to whether the design was in conflict with established rules of heraldry.

(I do not mean to imply that Luis is unschooled in the rules of heraldry. Moreover, his designing skills in this regard are exquisite, taking what someone gives him, at the very least. This was more a problem of my lack of contentment. In many respects I am chaotic.)

New Direction - Which is to say, Any

I consulted someone who designs and comments on designs of ecclesiastical heraldry. He recommended several changes, not considering any of them particularly mandatory, but some more than others.

First among the issues was the two swords crossing the river.  Second, the consultant discouraged the profuse representation of all these areas of my life, assignments, etc., a common practice in contemporary heraldic design. It becomes a two-dimensional version of those charm bracelets that were all the rage a few years ago. Overkill.

A coat of arms is more of a personal statement than a treatise on priesthood, which (unsurprisingly, intentionally) I was making it out to be. Not the first time I've been accused of trying too hard. Not that it has stopped me since. At any rate it's not improper (certainly not sinful) to ascribe loftier applications to heraldic components, even at the risk of abject eisegesis.

As I compose this post, I am awaiting reply from my consultant. But I would not wait to revise the heraldry according to my best attempts to simplify in ways meaningful and not gratuitous.

The good folks at Fleur-de-lis Designs (fleurdelis.com) incarnated what you see below on the right, substantially based on what you see below on the left, substantially based on the sketch I provided the original artist Luis. Hopefully that’s it now for revisions.


Here’s your hat: what’s your hurry?

As a bearer of ecclesiastical arms, I do not need any particular charge within the shield to represent the priesthood as such. The galero (hat) takes care of that. For a simple priest, the galero is black with one black tassel on each side.

This rounded style very much resembles one I fancied on the inter-webs. The new designer reworked it for my project.

Will you accept the charges?

“Look, Lord, here are two swords!” (Luke 22:38). And then there was one; and a single sword could represent to me not only my secondary nominal patron/first parochial patron Archangel Michael, but also the Lithuanian Vytis. The consultant suggested it could go inside the azure wavy, which I call the “blue river” for my purposes, provided it was metal-on-color.

As for that wavy, it had been stationed per pale (from top to bottom), but now it is per bend sinister (diagonally from bottom to top). Call it a tribute to writing with the sinister hand, which was no crime by the time I was taught how to write.

I switched out the argent (silver) flame with an or (gold) burning bush, following a long-held personal devotion to Moses’ encounter with a burning-but-not-consumed YHWH on Mount Horeb (Ex 3), with its Marian overtones in the Fathers. An icon of the Mosaic meetup appeared in a book on iconography that I consulted for a paper in college seminary. Love at first sight! I think it fed into my love of the color orange.

The plow had less personal significance (aside from my fond years at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, on whose shield it is a heraldic charge), so I changed it to a blended charge representative of Saint Joseph, my Confirmation saint (and my late father’s first name). The argent (silver, kinda white) lily and or (gold) carpenter’s square fit fine against the gules (red) background.

That gules background is 1/2 the color of the Polish flag and 1/3 the color of the Lithuanian flag. Maybe I had just put a quarter into an online coat-of-arms composer, and it spit out two coats, one for Zelonis predominantly gules and one for Welker (Mom’s maiden name) azure. I didn’t think those families were important enough to merit their own heraldry, but who knows?

The name Zelonis is close to the Lithuanian word for the color gray, zilys. Aside from the cursory Google search of databases, I haven’t found any official meaning to my surname, which for all I know was an anglicization. If there is any connection to gray, my current shield shows it only in the sword and the lily.

Border warfare 

The more-rounded shield is surrounded by alternating sable (black) and argent (silver, a heraldic fudging of ivory): perhaps a persnickety personal stamp but, to my mind, sharp. Not as “sharp” as the sword hashtag, I grant. Clever, but not contrived. 

The most recent example is found around the shield of Bishop Timothy Christian Senior; the description of his coat of arms called it a bordure compony. If it has a fancy name, it must have some pedigree in the heraldry business. 

Since the heraldry is meant to reflect the person of the armiger (bearer of arms) more than his office, it seemed fit to adopt this border as a nod to my love of performing and listening to music; better, too, as a border than yet another charge.

Incidentally, Bishop Senior is a skilled pianist. He accompanied several of the musicals we did at Saint Charles, in which I either acted or played trumpet in the pit. 

Taking Occam’s Razor to the Motto

The final changed component was the motto. Ever before knowing simple priests could “bear arms,” I would take note of Scripture verses as future mottos, as part of a fascination with ecclesiastical heraldry, vesture, etc.

My ordination holy card boasted a burning bush, and, below it (in English), Hebrews 12:29: “For our God is a consuming fire.” Soon after ordination, I had a local printer make me stationery that featured at the bottom a burning bush and the Latin version of that motto.

So why didn’t I choose that verse? Mysteries abound. It certainly factors into my conception and experience of God, and my esteem of the mystical tradition. It was one of many intriguing excerpts of Scripture and other Church documents that I have been writing down or highlighting over the years. 

Settling on a single statement has proved difficult for me. I think that’s why I first chose Matthew 13:52 (“He brings forth from his treasury both the new and and the old”—qui profert de thesauro suo nova et vetera). 

As I type, its appeal once again strikes me. That’s how volatile my fancies fly. I have old choices, I have new choices. One after another I bring them out of my storeroom, show them off, and put them back. That’s a good description of the preacher’s craft, come to think of it.

Can I take a moment to relish the pun on “thesaurus”? I love words: I love to use them, especially big ones, obscure ones, foreign ones. No meadow is free from my word-wantonness (cf. Wis 2:9). Preachers draw words from their treasuries, and the Church’s treasury, in their feeble attempts to express the Word Incarnate.

But Saint Paul’s intention expressed in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 also describes the minister of the Word: he said he and his companions wanted to share “not only the Gospel of God, but [their] very selves as well” (non solum evangelium Dei, sed etiam animas nostras). Not only a content, but a contender.

That phrase (from 1 Thess, not the one about a contender, though I could’ve been!) eventually replaced the one from Matthew, like another note from the treasury. How can the preacher not invest himself in his ministry, to the extent that he conveys much of himself in the process of conveying Christ?

Since the paradoxical inclusion of apparent opposites is much at the heart of Catholic theology and spirituality, I figured, why not abbreviate it to the relevant adverbs non solum sed etiam: “Not only, but also”?

Species of the Origin

Doubtless you may say, as did the bystanders of Zechariah and Elizabeth, “Nobody in your family has this name,” meaning “Nobody else has used this as a motto.” You’re probably right.

But forget about the novelty: does it even make any sense? Maybe not by itself, but as it can be applied to any number of aspects in Catholic life. So is it wise to blazon it by itself? I will let this rhetorical question ring out into the ether.

Everybody has been reminding me this is my coat of arms and I need not be exceedingly dependent on anyone else’s opinion. Well, that has never satisfied me. I will do my best to remain at least somewhat unsatisfied. It’s my nature, at least as of right now.

20 February 2021

The Temptation Triangle

“In my first article, Theophilus…”

I wanted that clause as the incipit for my second (though hopefully not last!) article for the Times News, because in that context it’s the only chance I'd get to riff on the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, attributed to Saint Luke, which he begins by alluding to his “first book,” his Gospel, which detailed the actions and words of Jesus. Commentators understand “Theophilus” (Greek for “lover/beloved of God”) as a personification of anyone who might read what Luke wrote, at least from God’s point of view.


With that out of my system, I can engage in a bit of “l’esprit de l’escalier” (the spirit of the staircase): only at the bottom of the stairs, when I’ve left the party, have I thought of a better thing to say. This article seems perfect for the First Sunday of Lent, but it wouldn’t get to press for the appropriate clergy column. However, I’m relieved to note the themes expressed herein apply not just to the entirety of Lent, but like Lent itself does, to the whole disciple’s life.


This year of the Catholic Lectionary cycle features Mark, whose characteristically laconic style compresses Jesus’ wilderness fast to two verses of “just the facts.” So maybe this article would be better for Matthew or Luke’s year in the cycle. But another theme of Lent is heightened awareness of our mortality and our lack of guarantees as to whether we will ever pass this way again. The Muses don’t hang out on street corners just waiting to be picked up.


At last I get around to the point of this second article: an unrecalled source of inspiration moved me to ponder how the temptations of the first Lent correspond to other important realities of the Christian journey. Last year I made of them a graphic of concentric triangles and suspended it from the pulpit as I preached.



Each side of the outermost triangle lists one of the Satanic temptations as St. Matthew narrated them (4:1-11): Turn stones into bread; cast yourself from the Temple and expect to be rescued; receive the world in return for worshipping me. Moving toward the center of the graphic, each successive triangle mentions a corresponding idea or practice. It’s hard to describe, but I won’t retreat now.


When Satan submitted that Jesus should feed Himself in a time of intentional caloric deprivation, he wanted to erode Jesus’ trust in the Father’s wise and loving plan. That’s the aim of the Tempter’s every effort. The goods of this world make a good servant, but a poor master, yet is that not how things normally go for us?


Moving towards the center of the triangles, next we have what theology calls the “triple concupiscence”: the three avenues of temptation, or what I perhaps have coined the docents of the museum of sin: “sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life” (1 John 2:15-17). In brief: the flesh, the world, and the devil. I can’t get away with saying any of these “made” me do what my will doesn’t intend (cf. Romans 7:15-22), but it sure feels that way sometimes.


Thus our first parents encountered the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (cf. Genesis 2:9,16-17). Perhaps God wanted to feed them from it all along, except for their grubby, grabby fingers. Better to have consorted with the “tree of life” (2:9), but the former’s fruit seemed “good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom” (Genesis 3:6, the sides of the next triangle). See now why it’s not good for the man or woman to be alone?


Lent calls Christians to intensify the disciplines, not surprisingly three in number, that make disciples out of the curious crowd. We give them special attention during penitential periods so we may better appreciate their perennial importance in our lives. Jesus directs us to fast, pray, and give alms without fanfare, so that “your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:4,6, 18).


Incidentally, the venerable option of sprinkling blessed ashes on people’s heads seems to convey the unassuming assumption of penance much more than a big ol’ cross. Then again, Jesus earlier told the crowds to “let their light shine brightly” (Matthew 5:16), so a cross might well convey how loudly His Gospel is meant to live within us. I take to paradoxes the “both-and” approach: letting the light shine is not flickering it like a disco ball.


The next level of triangles collapses into the very core of the graphic, where we find what Saint Paul called “the gift of God that you [Timothy, every God-fearer] have through the imposition of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). Paul explains, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but of”—get ready for another triptych—“power and love and self-control.” For purposes of this meditation I shall reverse the order, and tie it all together:


Turning stone to bread would temporarily quell the lust of the flesh, since the earth-fruit’s “goodness for food” is valid enough. But Jesus spots the bluff, and by His steadfast fasting—an exercise of self-control—steads Himself fast in the Father’s love.


Had Our Lord thrown His Body from the top of the Temple, a fleet of angels would have been at the ready. But the eyes didn’t have it, however pleasing was the prospect of divine daring. What a show it would have been, if only to Himself! Jesus rather gives Himself sacrificially, as Love does, not for the likes or retweets but for God’s glory and honor—and again, not surprisingly, for the fulfillment of His own mission: divine direction always promotes human flourishing.


Scarcely thwarted by human fidelity, ever hoping to disprove it as with Job (1:9-11), Satan suggested Jesus bow before him, offering a large reward at a larger price. But the King and Center of all hearts knows the Prince of This World has not his day, but only his hour. Without pride, therefore, Jesus denies the devil. Why pick a fruit desirable for gaining wisdom when You have all the wisdom to be had? The power of prayer is Jesus’ connection to the Father in the Holy Spirit.


In His sacred humanity, God the Son learned to maintain this bond through the loving example of Mary and Joseph. It is not infused in us, although we do well to recall how ardently we must abide with those who “imposed hands” on us—those whose spiritual, emotional, and even physical proximity fostered our faith. Their involvement eventually enables us to walk with confidence in the Way of Christ.


Even so, “sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master” (Genesis 4:7). No rest for the weary, as they say, except with the Spirit that God humanly entrusted to and through you.