Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Three Ages of the Interior Life | Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP | Catholic Spiritual Teaching

"Without God, the seriousness of life gets out of focus. If religion is no longer a grave matter but something to smile at, then the serious element in life must be sought elsewhere. Some place it, or pretend to place it, in science or in social activity; they devote the selves religiously to the search for scientific truth or to the establishment of justice between classes or peoples. After a while they are forced to perceive that they have ended in fearful disorder and that the relations between individuals and nations become more and more difficult, if not impossible. As St. Augustine and St. Thomas (6) have said, it is evident that the same material goods, as opposed to those of the spirit, cannot at one and the same time belong integrally to several persons. The same house, the same land, cannot simultaneously belong wholly to several men, nor the same territory to several nations. As a result, interests conflict when man feverishly makes these lesser goods his last end."

A friend in Poland tipped me off to the availability on the www of the classnotes in English for the course which Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, taught for years at the Angelicum University in Rome (long before I was born). I hope to have time to read them during my upcoming vacation. Take a look yourself and see whether these same things aren't timeless in terms of the value in the discussion of life priorities. To my mind, this is another "grand old man" who deserves to be read and discussed by the youth of today. Here is page 1

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

False Premises Commonly Held

Michael Foley has a succinct article at Crisis Magazine which should be widely read as it could soften some of the opposition to reforming the reformed liturgy according to the mind of the Holy Father:  Liturgical Myths

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Paint Yourself Into The Picture

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

2 Kings 4:8-11. 14-16
Romans 6:3-4. 8-11
Matthew 10:37-42

The passage from 2nd Kings for today says that the wealthy Shunemite woman and her husband received Elisha into their home with all of the regard due to a holy man of God and, without expecting it, were rewarded with the one thing missing in their lives, the one thing money and rank could not buy for them, offspring, a baby boy! In Matthew’s Gospel today Jesus promises a reward to all those who welcome apostles, prophets, holy men, disciples, even God’s little ones. He demands only (to use a very colloquial form of expression) that we not be clingy or self-absorbed. That’s one way to explain what Jesus was trying to teach the Twelve:
“Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus demands first place in our lives: before closest kin, before our own selves. He demands that we follow in His footsteps all the way to Calvary. How many spiritual authors have filled volumes trying to explain to you and to me just what that is supposed to mean given our specific station in life! And yet, there’s something very attractive, yes, profound about explaining it with the simple command: don’t be either clingy in your relationships or self-absorbed with regard to yourself.

Why did the Shunemite woman and her husband gain the unexpected prize of a baby boy from God? Who else could have given such a reward? They won, if you will, because they went beyond themselves and their daily affairs (beyond their self-absorption?) to recognize God in their world in the person of a holy man, Elisha. Holy: that is, touched by God, belonging to God, caught up to God’s realm and communicating something of God to others for the sake of the life of the world.

I used to think that a big part of the reason for the increased violence in our world was middle class prosperity, the increased material wealth of a larger cross section of society which made them or us targets for the envy of materially obsessed but less fortunate types disposed to resort to violence in order to increase their share of the pie, if you will. Actually, I am beginning to see that the problem of violence and greed is more than a problem in and of itself. The greater tragedy, if you will, comes with the reverse side of the same coin, namely that our inordinate attachments or obsessions whether for persons or for things render us unworthy of the company of Christ. They hold us earthbound and far from the fullness of life offered to us by our living Lord.
“Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
I’m not sure which comes first in a two-year-old’s language acquisitions: Mine! Or No!... Though our vocabulary may grow and our manners become more polished, some of us ultimately don’t get much beyond staking out our own territory, asserting ourselves or fending off others including God and His will for us.  Indeed, the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor are one, two sides of the same coin. My self-absorption or possessiveness effectively leave me out of life’s running both in this life and for eternity. I cannot set myself up in life to win; I need to lose myself in order to find life and enjoy life with the other in God.

So much church art of the Middle Ages and other periods as well, particularly paintings, include portraits of the wealthy benefactors who paid for the artwork. Sometimes they are clearly part of the scene; sometimes they are painted smaller and kneeling in the foreground. In a sense, they could be showing off, but in another sense, they are going beyond their daily affairs to welcome the holy and put themselves in the picture so to speak with the saints at the foot of the Cross. You don’t give out big money for a painting like that without recognizing the holy in life.

You and I need to do something similar, without painting ourselves into a painting on the wall of a church, really without letting our right hand know what the left one is doing. We need to welcome all into our lives as if they were Christ. The breadth and height and depth of our charity, focused on Christ, will be the measure with which we are measured back.

I am sure at this point if I nudged people on a whole series of inordinate attachments and obsessions, I’d get back either the bloodshot stare of rage or the pallid face of desperation concerning a whole series of moral imperatives which people today won’t face in their lives; those crosses they ignore or refuse to take up with Christ. The problem, in good part at least, is self-absorption; it’s clinging to someone or something and missing the visit of the holy man Elisha, who just might leave that gift of God behind, which not only bends stubborn hearts and wills, melts the frozen and warms the chill, but leaves in its train, perhaps not a baby boy, but what he signifies in terms of life and hope far beyond the gusto or you name it which I can grasp for myself on my one time go around.

Ask the Lord this Sunday to open your grasp or grabbing hands and help you to extend your arms in welcome to whomever, be it an apostle, a prophet, a holy man, a true disciple of the Lord or even just one of God’s little ones. For not expecting the gift in return, we can be ever so much more blessed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

From My Mother's Womb

St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

Today's solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist got me thinking quite intensely about the notion or nature of vocations, which we firmly believe do come from God and not from personal whim. That is to say, God calls a man to priesthood, just like God called St. John to prepare the way of the Lord and from the first moment of his existence, from his mother Elizabeth's womb. I've come to the conclusion that this "spiel" about so-called mature vocations to priesthood and religious life as being somehow better is not only folly but perhaps should be attributed to the evil one. God required no previous life experience of St. John before singling him out as the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. He doesn't require a series of adventures from a man as a prerequisite for admission to seminary.

Have you ever heard a witness from someone who came late to the priesthood who did not confess resisting or denying God's call, unless of course hardship at home stood in the way? By sending away younger people who present themselves as called by God, I feel we are stifling the Spirit. Let there be no mistake about it: over the last 20 years and more, bishops, pastors and seminary rectors have been sending young men away. How often over these same years have parents succeeded in dampening the hopes and aspirations of a son as well?

As odd-ball as those two first paragraphs of this reflection may sound and not wanting to be less than thankful to all those men who finally gave in or rebelled and accepted the grace bestowed upon them by God and became His priests, I want to insist that we need to do more to take younger people seriously and provide them with the opportunity of responding, proportionate to their age and maturity, to a call we must show that we too believe indeed comes from God.

St. Luke's Gospel for today's solemnity recounting the events on the day of John's circumcision seems to me to be incontrovertible evidence in this regard of how the world should react to God's subtle signs:

"All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. 'What will this child turn out to be?' they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel."

John's parents knew the difference between the finger of God and childish caprice; so should we. At this traditional time of year for priestly ordinations and anniversaries of ordination (35 for me this year!) the generally small or no numbers in many places cause pain but, with all due respect, not enough for hardened hearts to soften and creative minds to seek ways appropriate to our day and time to allow once again boys, yet boys, to speak an ADSUM at age 18 certainly, but perhaps even better at age 14! Maybe the Latin schools of the great monasteries and cathedral chapters should be reopened?

Forgive me for not having a pat answer to the vocation crisis! Our world has grown terribly chaotic and too many distractions compete for young hearts and minds. We grown-ups, however, cannot just stand idly by as if we were victims. We witness both cautious and bold "No's!" on the part of fellow Christians to other invasions into our rightful space as God's chosen ones. Shouldn't we also give respect to our children as they do the equivalent of what John did as he leapt for joy at the presence of his Lord, both of them still under their mothers' hearts? Elizabeth was voice for her son and for her doubting husband Zechariah. Let us help with a serious "Here am I Lord! I come to do Your Will!" for those the Lord has chosen from the womb today to feed and shepherd His flock.

The Birthday of St. John the Baptist has me worried about us who seem to be stifling the Spirit and depriving our people of the Bread of Heaven and the life-giving Word of God!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bone pastor, panis vere,

The Body and Blood of Christ
Solemnity (Year A)

The account of Moses and the People of God in the desert, taken from our first reading for Mass today from the book of Deuteronomy, struck me in a special way this year.

Normally when we think about Corpus Christi the Procession comes to mind, our carrying Christ into our cities, towns and villages. It is our witness to our faith in Him truly present under signs of bread and wine, Jesus present, our Risen Savior present, the Son of God present, the Word made Flesh present, not symbolically but really present, Jesus, His True Body, His True Blood, not the dead Christ but the Living One: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Bread of Angels is He; our Food and our Stay is He.

Normally we Catholics are busy today reclaiming the highways and byways for God in the Person of Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. We are blessing right and left and rightly so. We do so with joy and to the extent we are able in many places around the world with great solemnity and even pageantry, like in Orvieto not far from Rome or in some of the other places in Italy where they decorate in beautiful designs made out of different colored flower petals the path the priest will walk carrying Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Historically we can say that the Solemnity of Corpus Christi really took off at the time of St. Thomas Aquinas (just over 700 years ago),  Aquinas who composed the Divine Office and the great hymns for this feast. Since that time especially, Corpus Christi has been a saving antidote for all kinds of doubts and hesitations about the reality of this great mystery of our faith. It has calmed fears, restored joy, and vanquished those doubts in matters of faith which have crept into the lives of individual Christians, into the lives somethimes even of priests.

Normally, as I say, we are carrying Him, Jesus in the Eucharist, we are praising and proclaiming Him in the streets, we are worshipping Him, the One and Only, the One True God, Jesus Christ. But this year, as I say, Deuteronomy reminds us as well, at least it reminded me, that first and foremost we are celebrating God's action; it is not just we carrying and proclaiming. Moses says "Remember how the Lord your God led you... he fed you... to make you understand... that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord." Manna, bread from heaven, not what your fathers ate in the desert, but as Jesus says in the Gospel: "I am the living bread which has come down from heaven."

I think Trinidad is especially fortunate to have Corpus Christi both as a Holy Day and a National Holiday. While this day should be a reminder and reinforcement of a genuinely healthy Catholic pride in possessing such a great gift as Jesus truly present on our altars and in our tabernacles, let us also be mindful today in a very special way that it is Jesus Himself Who feeds and carries us all our days.

"As I (Jesus says in St. John's Gospel), who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me. This is the bread come down from heaven; not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever."

Bone pastor, panis vere,
Iesu, nostri miserere:
Tu nos pasce, nos tuere,
Tu nos bona fac videre
in terra viventium.
Tu qui cuncta scis et vales,
qui nos pascis hic mortales:
tuos ibi commensales,
coheredes et sodales
fac sanctorum civium.
Amen. Alleluia.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Monsters Under The Bed?

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
(Year A)
Exodus 34:4-6; 8-9
2 Cor. 13:11-13
John 3:16-18

“And Moses bowed down to the ground at once and worshipped, ‘If I have indeed won your favour, Lord,’ he said ‘let my Lord come with us, I beg. True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.’”
Once again and very thankfully, Trinity Sunday has snuck up on me and wrapped me in its loving embrace, clarifying certain ideas and, yes, calming certain of my fears. This happens because Trinity Sunday always leads me back to the third great Roman Catholic Symbol of Faith or Creed, the one popularly referred to as the “Athanasian Creed” or by its incipit in Latin as “Quicumque vult”. Up until 40 years ago, everyone in the Church obliged to pray the full Divine Office recited this creed each Sunday. Its words in Latin were as familiar as those of either the Nicene-Constantinopolitan (our Creed for Sunday Mass) or the Apostles Creed (recited usually with the Holy Rosary).

            These are the opening words of the Athanasian Creed:

“WHOEVER wishes to be saved must, above all, keep the Catholic faith. For unless a person keeps this faith whole and entire, he will undoubtedly be lost forever. This is what the Catholic faith teaches: we worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity."  
Trinity Sunday is meant to remind us of Who God is both in Himself and Who He is, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Lord, for us.

This week at supper with friends, somebody at table offered one of those compliments or observations that you don’t really know if it truly is a compliment or if they are not posing a question or expressing doubt. Anyway, somebody mentioned this so-called “Pew Survey” from last April which claims that 92% of the people in the United States say they believe in God. Having said this, the person added some sort of word of admiration. “Wet blanket” or damper that I am, I offered my own rather negative perspective on the thing by saying that many of those people, who say they believe in God, have no experience of being part of His people or His heritage, to use the expression from the Book of Exodus; many, many of those among them who would claim to be Christian were and are un-churched and un-baptized. In point of fact, often among those nominally Christian, it could well be said that they are no more than practical atheists with a genuine fear, almost horror of all we are familiar with as Church.

Trinity Sunday is here to proclaim that belief unto life everlasting is not a generic thing; it is informed with knowledge of the Godhead, of God’s Will and of our salvation in Christ. Our faith has a specific content and as I say, Thanks be to God, it is here in a rather unique way that the third big creed comes to the rescue with clarity of ideas and proper distinctions:

“WHOEVER wishes to be saved must, above all, keep the Catholic faith. For unless a person keeps this faith whole and entire, he will undoubtedly be lost forever. This is what the Catholic faith teaches: we worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity."  

We see the devastating consequences resulting from that part of the purported 92% which is uncommitted and impersonal (un-churched and un-baptized) in their relationship with God. Sadly, their claim to belief in God rings terribly hollow when we look at how it plays out in the lives of our civil leadership almost anywhere in the Western World. Expediency and compromise keep under wraps the truth about God and His will for us human beings, who are the crown of His creation, we who are made in His Image and Likeness. The failure to embrace God as He is One in Three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, keeps their governance or leadership in society from having the consequences it should: in terms of respect for human life born and not yet born; in terms of respect for the family and marriage. The Ten Commandments are not even recognized and obeyed. How can they be if there isn’t any real recognition of the One Who gave the two stone tablets to Moses?

I started by saying that Trinity Sunday, leading me back to the Athanasian Creed, calmed certain fears. One day this past week in the newspaper cartoon Calvin & Hobbes, little Calvin shouts out in the darkness and asks how many monsters there were under his bed and the shout comes back from down below “only one”, but as Calvin & Hobbes are preparing to defend themselves with a baseball bat against that only one, the whole sneaky crowd of monsters under the bed starts fighting with each other and Calvin & Hobbes flee under the blankets calling for mommy. The relativism in society today and the consequences it has for our lives and for the truth tends to trouble me like the monsters under the bed. Thank God for Trinity Sunday!

There is a YouTube Channel attributed to somebody named Alex Jones, who has web sites called or Prisonplanet. In his videos he is always denouncing a global conspiracy by the international banking cartels to provoke WW III and take over whatever is left when the nuclear cloud subsides. Some people can dismiss that sort of talk as disinformation, but knowing how things work in our world, seeing the harm done in recent times to the world economy by unscrupulous speculation, it is hard to entirely discount such conspiracy theories and sleep peacefully. Thank God for Trinity Sunday!

My invitation to you this Sunday would be to embrace our Trinitarian faith in all its fullness and truth. The beauty of the Athanasian Creed is that it posits that faith in no uncertain terms, which is, of course, as it should be.

The readings today are all very reassuring. St. Paul describes our God as the “God of love and peace”. In the Gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus of God’s love in giving up His only Son for all of us. The judgment, Jesus says, come not from God condemning but from someone’s refusing to believe in God’s Son Whom He sent into the world.

“No one who believes in him will be condemned; but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.”
Thanks be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for Trinity Sunday and for the Athanasian Creed!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Freedom: Law and Lost Innocence

Saint Aloysius, pray for us!

The other evening at a reception, a good friend who is a language teacher shared with me her puzzlement over a discussion of a magazine article on priestly celibacy which had recently taken place in her advanced language class. While some were indifferent the bulk of the group, mostly practicing Catholics, men and women, some 18 or 19 years of age, others 25 to 35 and married, thought that a priest should be allowed to choose. They could distinguish between monastic life as a chaste or celibate experience and secular priesthood, which they thought should be open to marriage. My teacher friend, an older person who knows her faith, sensed a certain disconnect in their attitude but did not know how to respond to it.

It was clear to us both that their stance did not stem from some sort of chauvinistic attitude about marriage being the best of all possible lifestyles. Rather it seemed simply a rebellion against structure or rules. Somehow the notion that the priestly vocation also for secular priests was by its very nature as lived out in the Church celibate made no impression on them and they just seemed to want to balk at what they found a priori to be an imposition.

At the same reception an older gentleman, non Catholic but thoroughly immersed and versed in our world, asked me if when I retired I could just go sailing and leave everything I had known as a priest and bishop behind. He was respectful but somewhat puzzled when I spoke about priesthood as my life from which I could no more retire than a man could retire from being a husband.

Upon further reflection, both conversations bring home to me the dilemma of living in a society without respect for traditional limitations, without either taboos or laws (poor Lady Gaga!). Once upon a time certain things just were not done and people were all the freer for having fewer options to consider. Not so many years ago I can remember being at table with a German bishop who said very clearly that the tragedy of life for young men in the professional and banking world of Frankfurt-am-Main was that the taboos had been lost which had kept their fathers from falling in love with the man at the next desk. Life was much harder now and filled with much more suffering as a young man had no rules to help him sort through feelings which were no more enduring today than they had been a generation or two ago. My bishop deplored a world which unrealistically offered too many choices.

In terms of priesthood, if the secular priest's lifestyle were not put in question but seen as a package, the call from God to priesthood as something naturally celibate and austere, life in the Church would also be easier and especially for priests. In fact, I'm beginning to see that the tendency to want to prefer accepting only older and experienced men as candidates for the seminary is not only an illusion or perhaps a perversion of how things ought to be. It puts undo pressure on everyone involved.

Granted, the 14 year old who went to the minor seminary in former times may not have been able to understand much about life but he certainly was able to know essentially what it meant to be a priest. Why shouldn't the same be patently clear to today's 14 year olds? Then and now that young man will have sorted more things out by 18 years of age and when he decides for celibacy with ordination to the transitional diaconate at age 25 it will be the most natural thing in the world, a giant step, yes, but oh so full of promise for what will be the realization of his life's goal already at age 26. Doesn't everyone have a right essentially to realize the dream of a lifetime before he reaches 30 years of age? I am not singing the refrain "Life was simpler back in the good old days". I'm just saying there are no particular advantages to be gained from reading a book while standing on your head. Life must be simpler than what many folks make it out to be.

It may be objected that the world has changed and nobody at age 18 makes life choices any more. The point is that an 18 year old today has choices which his father maybe didn't have at 18-25. If you get my drift, I guess I think it is unfair of the "first world" to explain away the more numerous priestly vocations of the "third world" by chalking it up to social promotion. It would be better to stand in the "third world" and express regret over the additional complications which have made life for "first worlders" so miserable.

Next week, on June 21, is the memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, religious, who is celebrated for the sacrifice of his youth in the service of the sick and poor and remembered for his yearning for the courts of Heaven. His joy in single-hearted commitment to the Lord left his elders even somewhat perplexed. What was rare in his own day might be thought even rarer now. Rarer, perhaps, but as thoughtful friends in the priesthood in contact with life in the parishes up north tell me, there is already a typecast of the first home-schooled men to reach ordination to the priesthood and it is wonderfully positive and refreshing. The home-schoolers now being ordained priests after theology studies in good seminaries at home or abroad are marked by a Gonzagan transparency and youthful enthusiasm. Realizing the dream of a lifetime at age 26 is evidently possible.

Scriptural imagery describing the glowing young bridegroom never denies that he must keep working at his relationship with the love of his life, until death do them part. The combat, spiritual combat, associated with the life of the priest will go on until the Lord calls him home, but I really and truly think that too many folk spend too much time trying to make life harder than it is.

Besides praying for vocations and encouraging those who come forth, I think we have to correct our world perception and make it once again possible for a little boy to know, love and serve the God Who made him. Priesthood is certainly a sublime aspiration, especially when a 14 year old can know just what that is supposed to mean.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Jesus is Lord

Pentecost Sunday (Year A)
Acts 2:1-11
1 Cor. 12:3-7. 12-13
John 20:19-23
Sine tuo numine,
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.
If thou take thy grace away,
Nothing pure in man will stay;
All his good is turned to ill.
(Without Thy Godhead nothing can,
have any price or worth in man,
nothing can harmless be.)

“No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.”
Maybe I need to preface anything I say today with a sort of a little confession. For some strange reason my whole novena for Pentecost this year has been haunted by thoughts about language, communication and comprehensibility.

Although this year’s “Pew Survey” published a couple months back up in the United States is probably not the real reason for that concern on my part about communicating, a rather outspoken Jesuit’s commentary on this survey and a few tired old remarks about what poor preachers Catholic priests are have churned up a lot of people even here locally, as can be evidenced by Fr. Henry Charles’ articles last week and again this week in the Catholic News.

Let it be granted, and left at that, that our experience of Church today certainly represents a contrast to the account in the 2nd chapter of the Acts of the Apostles as we just heard it read. Our lives are neither as exciting nor do they show the results the Apostles did on that Pentecost long ago.

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech. …’How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? …we hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God.’”
Pentecost is a day for us to wonder and to give thanks to God for this explosion of life, this incomparable demonstration of God’s power which took place as the Church came to birth and streamed out of that Upper Room where the Apostles had been gathered in prayer with Mary the Mother of the Lord. Pentecost seals that same sending out which Jesus effected, risen from the dead, in that same Upper Room on Easter Sunday evening, as He breathed on them and said:
“Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”
Pentecost is optimal communication not first and foremost because of some sort of miracle of simultaneous translation and benefitting not only different people from all around the Mediterranean basin. No, Pentecost gets across what today seems to be an uncommon message “…about the marvels of God”. Be it stated that the marvels of God are not cosmic events taking place in our upper or lower stratosphere. The marvels of God are all the ways He touches our lives not theoretically, theologically or cosmically, but directly, personally.

As the Gospel says it and Jesus meant it to be, no doubt God’s greatest marvel is the power of the keys which He entrusted to priests, to His Church on this day:
 “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”
Pentecost Day was, yes, once upon a time, but the gift of the Spirit it announces and illustrates is for now. This is what St. Paul tells the Corinthians and us, namely about the gift of the Spirit, that which is varied, is always, and is always the same God, Who is working in all of us. A marvel indeed!

“No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.”
When we were small children, my two sisters and I used to do our school homework sitting at the kitchen table together. How old were we? Well, because we were all three there and all had homework that meant we had to have been 8, 9, and 11 years old. Anyway! A lady down the block with two children, the younger being a boy my age (11), asked my mother if she could send her Tommy over to do his homework with us, benefitting from the good example of the three of us at the kitchen table. Tommy wasn’t doing all that great in school. After one evening, my two younger sisters begged Mom not to let Tommy come back again as he was a distraction to them, wiggling, grinning and his head swiveling from one side to another.

For whatever reason, Tommy didn’t get it and probably never did. He’s like a lot of our world, even of our church going world. The forgiveness of sins, Love incarnate nailed to a Tree for us, none of it gets certain folk to stop fidgeting. Perhaps that was the real miracle of communication in Jerusalem that day, the noise of the powerful wind from heaven coming from that Upper Room gathered that crowd and they listened as these Spirit-filled men spoke about the marvels of God. I can be as polished, as clever and talented as could be, but it is the Holy Spirit Who touches hearts and lives; it is the Holy Spirit Who transforms.

Saturday morning in Arouca I was at the celebration of Pentecost which the Holy Ghost Fathers hold annually on the Vigil and use to commemorate all of the jubilees of their men. This year there was one 60 years of priestly ordination and one 60 years of religious vows, two 50 years of priesthood and one 50 years of religious profession! Father Anthony de Verteuil preached and spoke of the various ministries he and his fellow jubilarians had carried out as priests over all these many, many years. As he described each ministry singly, whether it was hearing confessions or celebrating Mass or teaching, he would pause and then say: “Thank you, Holy Spirit!”

“No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.”
Our world and all its fidgety Tommies needs to know Jesus and His Church, needs to know Jesus as Lord, needs to know what is really great or marvelous about life as we realize day in and day out the real reason for which we were created, made for God and Him alone, not fidgety but restless as St. Augustine said until our hearts rest in Him.

When we pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit we pray for a very special gift of comprehension or communication. It goes well beyond statistics or forms to a real and loving interpersonal exchange with God Himself. Please grant us this, O Lord, we pray.
Light immortal, light divine,
Visit thou these hearts of thine,
And our inmost being fill:
If thou take thy grace away,
Nothing pure in man will stay;
All his good is turned to ill.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Siren Songs?

I have to admit I was a bit taken aback by the "In Depth Analysis" of 16 May, offered by Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, president of, admonishing people not to be mean-spirited and quarrelsome over liturgy. His point is well taken, but not in the context or terms he chose to couch his plea. The fifth point was the corker for me: "5. Recognize that we are all unworthy of even the ugliest Mass." In principle it may be true but in context it sounds like not only a capitulation to liturgical abuse but an utter failure to take the Holy Father seriously when he speaks about a rupture with the tradition (not to mention what the Pope says about the role of beauty in worship and life).

In a sense, I would prefer most anything to an analysis like that of Dr. Mirus. You could say, that there is something less lethal about a brutal refusal to face other folk's concern about the present state of not only parish liturgy and the scandal it represents especially for young people in their search for the Lord of their life. The president of does not seem to understand the suffering of many over the last four decades, nor the role "ugly, uglier, and ugliest" has played in driving people away from the Church.

Too much of what we face in terms of opposition to the reform of the reformed liturgy might be compared to a "siren song". Even if you don't know the classics, Odysseus or Ulysses, you might have encountered the extraterrestrial counterpart of an ancient Greek or Roman siren in an old episode of Star Trek, where wicked aliens attempt to imprison Capt. K. masquerading as beautiful earth-women!

In my case, I have an otherwise fairly reasonable elderly woman who will not forgive me for going ad Orientem or as she lisps, turning my back on her. La La Land may be tempting for some, but I think we owe each other all sorts of encouragement for the task which is at hand of reconfiguring Catholic Culture (and not just the .org) such that worship is for the Lord and we really are about the business for which God created us and not just whiling away the hours to the strum of somebody's guitar or the beat of their drum.

Here's hoping that Dr. Mirus will have the time and the input to be able to appreciate what is really at stake and how urgent the business of reform is!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Restoring the Kingdom to Whom?

The Ascension of the Lord (Year A)
Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:17-23
Matthew 28:16-20

What is the meaning or significance of Christ’s victory over sin and death? What did the Easter Season mean for the Apostles: those 40 days between His Resurrection and His Ascension to God’s Right Hand? What is it that shines forth in the very intimate experiences reserved for His Apostles in His repeated appearances and teaching over those 40 days since His Resurrection and, now as Jesus is taken from their sight, as He commissions them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth? What is it that the Ascension of the Lord crowns or confirms?

The liturgy for today says it very simply in the words: “where He has gone we hope to follow.”

However, the lessons the Risen Christ taught them during these 40 days were not all that evident to the Apostles, as we can see from the readings today, both from the Acts of the Apostles and from Matthew’s Gospel:
“Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
“When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated.”
It is St. Paul in today’s 2nd Reading from his letter to the Ephesians who explains to us what the Apostles only learned on Pentecost Sunday with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Basically, today explains the greatness, the profundity, the length and breadth, the height and depth of what is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. We come to see things clearly. In terms of time and history we leave behind us B.C. (all of history from the dawn of Creation, all that which went before the coming of God’s Anointed, His Christ) and we enter into God’s Kingdom, now firmly established in the person of Jesus (Anno Domini, A.D., in the year of our Lord, as good Christian folk used to start off when they were writing something).

“He has put all things under his feet, and made him as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole creation.”
And a lot of us, just like the Apostles before Pentecost say: “And…?” Taking our Christianity for granted as we do, we wonder about what makes us different or, God forbid, better by reason of our baptism into Christ than anyone else. “Where He has gone we hope to follow.” How can we, how dare we say that we are bound to Him, to Jesus, and consequently to God’s Chosen One, His Only One:
“He has put all things under his feet, and made him as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole creation.”
Paul is right in praying for us, because the implications of this, of the mystery of the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord, aren’t all that easy to grasp:
“May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers.”
The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord celebrates Christ’s victory and our hope to share in the same forever with Him in Heaven. It is indeed an absolute sort of thing, not necessarily moving us to scorn this life, but certainly inspiring a hope which goes beyond the ordinary.

These days I’m listening to CDs from a basic course in Ukrainian and reading a couple of books on the history and customs of that great country, which will soon be my home. According to the one book, buffet food or finger food at receptions is not that popular. Ukrainians, if the book is correct, still seem to believe that the best time comes from sitting around the table and eating and drinking together. The scene the author describes reminds me of a scene from a country home in one of Dostoyevsky’s books, where the young man is for all practical purposes smothered in food, drink, and the warmth of this country home. He likes it, I think, but finds too much what the elderly couple would judge as just right and truly living.

“Where He has gone we hope to follow.” Or as we read elsewhere: “here we have no lasting dwelling place.” Our world today is generally far from Dostoyevsky’s lovely little couple in the country; people tend to be lean and, sadly too, often mean. Food and drink, society and song is not necessarily the antidote for the typical type of alienation from which our Western world suffers. The great cultures of India and China or Japan, for that matter, don’t necessarily provide. Our hope can and must ultimately be found elsewhere or, should I say, beyond elsewhere and forever.

I think it is right that our lives be happy and that we have a certain measure of contentment which we share with everyone else. Maybe our world’s practical atheists don’t miss God, but if they were to encounter Him in our shared joy and in our hope to know His sacrificial love and live with Him forever beyond the grave, I firmly believe that much else would fall by the wayside and they might take us by the sleeve and beg us to lead them to the Lord.

We affirm with St. Paul, that God the Father:
“(He) has put all things under his feet, and made him as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole creation.”
Let your Sunday meditation carry your thoughts, beyond common friends, good times and even generous service to neighbor, to Him and where we hope to follow! His is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever!

 “May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers.”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Right, but not Politically Correct

I'd like to call your attention to a "young man's" analysis of the Life Teen experience. My guess is that there will be those who protest with comments which boil down to "How could you?" Fr. Christopher Smith on P&W

Father poses the question about the role of worship in our lives. He points most effectively to the urgency of reforming the reformed liturgy and healing the rupture. Liturgy, our work as God's people, has to be restored to its place as the jewel in the crown of an all-pervading Catholic culture, open to the world, open to life, open first and foremost to the God Who loves us, Who made us and saved us in Christ.

Liking P&W, feeling at home with P&W, not knowing anything but P&W is narrowing and ultimately an illusion.

Thank you, Father Smith!