A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sitting before the Lord

King David is a busy guy with big plans and many things to do.

And when Nathan the prophet gives him some important information, King David, in today’s first reading (2 Samuel 7:18-19,24-29), takes immediate action.

He sits down.

Nathan reported all these words
and this entire vision to David.

Then King David went in

and sat before the LORD...

As he sits there, David opens his heart before the Lord: mindful first of his unworthiness, placing himself in God’s hands, and trusting in God’s promises.

In our busy lives, may we always remember to take a little time to sit before the Lord in prayer and open our hearts to him, so that he may fill us with his grace.

His "terrible twos" were terrible indeed

for that was when John’s father died.

John would have to work to help support his family while still a boy. The family’s parish priest, however, made sure that John received an education.

It was no surprise, then, that John eventually entered the seminary and still kept working even during his years of study.

During his first assignment, John visited the local prisons and was heartbroken to see so many boys incarcerated, seemingly written off by society. Sometime later, he overheard a sacristan beating a boy off the street who wasn’t capable of serving Mass. He rebuked the sacristan and let the boy go free. The boy came back, bringing other homeless boys with him who needed education, prayer, and kindness. Soon, there were hundreds of them.

Some people thought John was crazy (literally!) but eventually both church and civic leaders saw the value of the work he was doing and supported it. Nearly fifty years after rescuing that first young man, approximately 130,000 children were being cared for by John and his coworkers, in houses dedicated to Mary Help of Christians and St. Francis de Sales.

St. John Bosco, founder of Society of Saint Francis de Sales (who later renamed themselves the Salesians of Don Bosco), died on this very day one hundred and twenty years ago. He was canonized in 1934.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why God hides

Saint Paul told his disciple Timothy (1 Timothy 2:4) that God
“wants all men to be saved
and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

In the middle of today’s Gospel (Mark 4:1-20), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ tells his disciples something that sounds very different:

“The mystery of the Kingdom of God
has been granted to you.
But to those outside
everything comes in parables, so that
they may look and see but not perceive,
and hear and listen but not understand,
in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.”

Okay, so does God want everyone to be saved or does he not?

If he does, why does he seem to hide himself?

Ultimately, it all comes down to the tension between the concept of Free Will and the concept of an infinitely irresistible God.

If God were to reveal himself to us in all his beauty and power, few if any of us could resist. Our willpower would be overwhelmed and we would be like meteorites falling dumbly into the greatest gravity well in the universe.

But God does not want us to be dumb rocks, pulled mindlessly by his overwhelming power and glory. God gave us our free will, so that we might freely love him.

And so God keeps himself somewhat veiled: veiled by created reality (which nonetheless also reveals him), veiled by the “cloud of unknowing” in prayer (wherein we nevertheless can encounter him), and veiled in the human words of Scripture’s complex literary genres (and yet which is truly the Word of God).

As in the case of our Lord’s disciples, we pierce these veils by his grace and by our openness to his grace: we perceive, understand, and convert by God’s gift and by our own Free Will.

May the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be given to us in ever greater abundance, so that we may open ourselves even more to his grace and truth and so that our will’s may more and more attuned to God’s.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

“A chicken in every pot”

That was the slogan of a politician a long time ago, asserting that if he were elected, no one would be hungry.

In today’s first reading (2 Samuel 6:12b-15, 17-19) – an even longer time ago – a popular leader actually gives an abundance of food to the people.

(King David) then distributed among all the people,
to each man and each woman in the entire multitude of Israel,
a loaf of bread, a cut of roast meat, and a raisin cake.

Politicians promise much and we should always exercise great care and discernment, but we should always keep our focus on the Lord and put all our trust in Him.

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Kate Wicker.

With all his might

In today’s first reading (from 2 Samuel 6), King David has the Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem with great ceremony

And David danced before the LORD with all his might

(The Lectionary says that David danced “with abandon”, which is an uncommon and somewhat imprecise translation, sad to say.)

David's action is not necessarily an endorsement of liturgical dance for all times and situations. For one thing, not all of us are culturally or personally well-matched for dancing as a form of expression.

But in his dance David gives all of us an example we can and must follow, for he dances “before the LORD with all his might.”

Too many of us are lukewarm in our actions and expressions of worship.

We move lethargically – if at all.
We sing quietly – if at all.
We respond or recite in mumbles – if at all.
We pay attention sporadically – if at all.
We focus on the presence of God halfheartedly – if at all.

So then because thou art lukewarm,
and neither cold nor hot,
I will spew thee out of my mouth.
Revelation 3:16

That is not to say that we should have a no-holds-barred free-for-all when we gather for church (as St. Paul says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” - 1 Corinthians 14:40).

But whatever appropriate forms of expression our cultures may have and whatever order our communities of faith may observe, today’s first reading invites us - and the Lord Jesus calls us - to rouse ourselves and to worship the Lord with all our might.

(adapted from an earlier post)

His mother and brothers

Today’s Gospel (Mark 3:31-35) and its parallels usually strike cradle Catholics as strange. We have been raised to venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary, but today’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’ brothers and seems to depict Jesus as speaking almost dismissively of his mother and family.

The part about the “brothers and sisters” is relatively easy to deal with: in the usage of that time and place, that included close relatives who were not necessarily children of the same parents.

More difficult to deal with perhaps is our Lord's reaction to hearing that his mother and brothers are outside. Instead of going out to see them, he says,

But he said to them in reply,
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother."

This may not only disturb our long-nurtured Marian devotion, it may even make Jesus look like a rude child (“I don’t need my parents, I’ve got my friends”), and may seem to clash with the wonderful depiction of Mary elsewhere in the Gospels.

But in the Gospel of Luke we find the key to understanding what our Lord is saying, most specifically in one of the things Elizabeth says upon her Visitation by Mary.

“Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And in what Mary says at the Annunciation.

“Be it done to me according to your word.”

Christ’s message in this Gospel passage is that a relationship with Him must be based on living faith in God. As we know and as Luke emphasizes, Mary is first and foremost a woman of faith, who accepts and lives out the will of God – in a way more profound than our imagination can bear.

If we accept our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, receive his grace and live according to God’s will, we are His brothers and sisters, and because of her faith, the greatest of our sisters is Mary (whom our Lord on the cross also presented to us as our Mother).

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church, and our Sister in Faith.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Monday, January 28, 2008

The blind and the lame

Today’s first reading (2 Samuel 5:1-7, 10) tells us of King David being anointed by the tribes of Israel and of his capturing Jerusalem.

All of it seems straightforward, except something very strange that is uttered by the Jebusite occupiers of Jerusalem:

“You cannot enter here:
the blind and the lame will drive you away!”

David’s reaction to this is recounted in verse 8 of this chapter (unsurprisingly excluded from today’s Lectionary selection):

“The lame and the blind shall be the personal enemies of David." (The narration then continues) That is why it is said, "The blind and the lame shall not enter the palace."

The apparent exclusion of persons with disabilities from the royal palace, seemingly based on the grudge of the King, sounds very unjust (and of course very politically incorrect).

As close to God as he was, King David, like any human being, was not always perfect and it is possible that the reference to “the blind and the lame” is exactly what it sounds like. In this interpretation, the Jebusites were so sure of their fortifications that they stationed men who were blind and lame atop the walls to taunt David. David may have taken this as a very personal insult and, according to one possible interpretation, would afterwards hold a grudge against the blind and the lame.

But some scholars have pointed out another possible interpretation: that the reference to “the blind and the lame” comes from a rhetorical and ideological conflict between Israel and the Jebusites.

In this interpretation, the idolatrous Jebusites apparently were not amused by Israelite rhetoric against idols and idolaters. Although it may not be exactly from this exchange, a classic example of this kind of rhetoric can be found in Psalm 135:15-18:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.

They have mouths but speak not;
they have eyes but see not;
They have ears but hear not;
no breath is in their mouths.

Their makers shall be like them,
all who trust in them.

According to this interpretation, the Jebusites, wishing to taunt David from behind their "impregnable" fortifications, placed their idols atop the walls, as if to say to David, “So, you think our gods are blind and lame? Well, the blind and the lame will drive you away!”

In this interpretation, “the blind and the lame” are not persons with disabilities, but idols. This makes verse 8 much more palatable: The (Jebusite idols) shall be the personal enemies of David. That is why it is said, "The (Jebusite idols) shall not enter the palace."

The Jebusite’s fundamental fault, of course, was trusting in the work of their own hands, not just in their idols but also in their fortifications. If they compounded their sin by using persons with disabilities as symbolic insults, that would be all the worse.

Do we – we as individuals and we as humanity – trust too much in the work of our own hands? Do we think too much of our accomplishments and our technologies and fail to recognize the flaws in what we have set around us?

As you and I strive to use our strengths and wits in this life as best we can, may we always recognize that our greatest strength and deepest wisdom comes from the Lord our God.

The Dominican is dedicated to truth

"The Dominican is dedicated to truth, for God is truth.

"It is sacred truth, saving truth, that primarily concerns us here.

"God has called us into the intimacy of his own Trinitarian life, so that as sons in the Son we can cry out Abba, Father.

"And we are meant one day to see the glory, the power, the love, beauty, wisdom of God face to face.

"While we are on pilgrimage, we share in God’s own self-knowledge through faith in Him, as He reveals Himself in the Word made flesh and the Word as preached. The truth convicts, the truth redeems, the truth saves.

"The Dominican is to live in that truth, to be converted and sanctified by it, and to preach it."

from the Vocations website of the Order of Preachers Province of Saint Joseph

When he was 5, his parents sent him away

Why? Partly for his education, partly because of his parents’ ambition, and also perhaps partly out of guilt.

Then, when he went to college, the young man rejected the plans of his rich, ambitious parents and joined a new religious group of panhandlers.

His parents had him kidnapped and attempted to “deprogram” him. After a couple of years, they gave up. He went back to college and his religious “family” of beggars.

He eventually got a teaching position and his entire life became devoted to teaching, writing, and praying.

Then suddenly, one day in his late forties, he gave up everything except prayer. He died the next year.

In his relatively short life, however, the little rich boy turned beggar and teacher had already made quite a name for himself.

In his short life, Kings and Popes had sought his advice, so great was his reputation for wisdom.

Even after his short life, religious orders fought over his body, so great was his reputation for holiness.

The body of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, perhaps the greatest of all Christian theologians and philosophers, was finally interred in a church belonging to his fellow Dominicans on this very day in 1369, 94 years after his death and 42 years after his canonization.

(Adapted from an earlier post)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

This is the one

This is an historic moment.

This is the person we have been waiting for: the person who will lead us out of the troubles of the past into a future full of hope.

This is the person who will change our lives.

All we need to do is make the choice: this Tuesday in Florida...

...or February 5th in many other states...

or today, no matter where you are…

…you and I can make the choice to make Jesus Christ more and more the center of our lives.

Well, yes, of course, we might protest, Christ is indeed the center of our lives.

But is he really?

In today’s first reading (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17), members of the Church in Corinth, in the very first generation of Christianity, have already splintered into factions, each focusing upon different charismatic leaders.

“I belong to Paul,” or
“I belong to Apollos,” or
“I belong to Cephas,” or...

This phenomenon has continued in some ways throughout history even to the present day.

It should be noted that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with preferring the style or perspective of particular saints or leaders, but being imperfect human beings, our focus can easily drift.

It is critically important that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ always remain the center of our devotion, our spirituality, our theology, and our lives. We should therefore check ourselves continually, to make sure that Christ is indeed our center.

The best leaders and all the saints know this: no matter how much other people focus on them , they themselves keep Christ as the absolute center of their lives.

Saint Paul puts it perfectly, later in this same letter (11:1):

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

No matter whom we like as a political leader or as a spiritual exemplar, no matter what our personal style or personal preferences, may we always keep Christ as the center of our lives.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What kind of family member are you?

Today’s readings feature two very different kinds of extended family relationships.

In the first reading (2 Timothy 1:1-8), Saint Paul writes to Saint Timothy about two members of Timothy’s family.

I recall your sincere faith
that first lived in your grandmother Lois
and in your mother Eunice
and that I am confident lives also in you.

Today’s Gospel (Mark 3:20-21) gives us an example of very different family relationships, involving the extended family of our Lord himself.

When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Timothy’s mother and grandmother were sharers of the faith, which took deep root in him.

The attitude of our Lord’s family seems quite different. There is ambiguity in the text, however, since it is not absolutely certain who was the “they” that said our Lord was "out of his mind." Nor is it clear that all of his family came with the same motives (especially since, as we hear later in this chapter) our Lord’s mother would be among them.

Some of his family may have thought he was crazy or perhaps his family was hearing other people say he was crazy. Some may have come to cover-up what they may have thought a blot on the family honor, some may have been concerned about his welfare (and sought to seize him protectively rather than leave him to the mercies of mobs and governments), and some may have come to restrain the others.

Among the questions that these readings set before us are these:

What kind of a family member am I? (I personally am not at all as good as I should be.)

How do I relate as a Christian to others in my immediate family and in my extended family?

Do I share faith and kindness? Or do I ignore my faith in my longest and most personal relationships?

Do I exercise discernment in relating with my family or do I simply react viscerally or am I just coasting?

As today’s Responsorial Psalm says, we are to “proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations”, but we should be discerners and sharers of faith within our families as well.

Timothy and Titus

Today is the memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, bishops and apostolic men, coworkers of the great Apostle Saint Paul who wrote letters to each of them that are preserved in the New Testament canon.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, January 25, 2008

The miraculous and the mundane

In today’s Gospel (Mark 16:15-18), our risen Lord speaks to the eleven Apostles who had lived and walked with him during his public ministry, but his words apply strongly to someone outside that group who would come to be known as one of the greatest of Apostles: Saint Paul.

The “signs (that) will accompany those who believe” apply in a special way to St. Paul, who literally shook off the bite of a deadly snake (Acts 28:3-6).

There are some Christians who do not see this passage as a purely historical reference or literary foreshadowing, but who look at the miraculous signs in this passage as personal goals.

We must be clear: to this day, miraculous signs such as these (and many others) continue to “accompany those who believe”, but they are God’s gift, given according to his will, and not as a miracles-on-demand service.

While we can look and pray for miracles, our focus needs to be on drawing ever closer to Christ and being ever more faithful in his service.

Indeed, the signs that accompany those who believe are not just of the miraculous variety.

We may not drink poison liquids, but few of us can escape taking in the poisons of today’s culture and so we must be vigilant and pray for God’s grace to keep our thoughts and emotions pure.

We may not often run into snakes (especially if we live in cities), but we often encounter snakes of the two-legged kind: slippery people who can turn on us suddenly with deadly intent.

We may or may not speak in tongues, but in seeking to spread the Gospel, you and I need to speak “new languages” – communicating the truth of the Gospel faithfully in differently ways and using different mechanisms: using creative approaches as needed and the newest technologies available to communicate effectively the unchanging truth.

Finally, there are indeed demons from Hell “who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls” (may God rebuke them, we humbly pray in Jesus’ name) but there are also other kinds of demons, metaphorical but nevertheless deadly: the “demons” of unresolved issues within us as well as the malevolent human individuals and human forces around us.

It is a scary world out there and we need to be prudent, but we must also remain faithful to Christ, in our thoughts, words and actions, opening ourselves evermore to his grace and seeking to follow his command:

Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.

The Conversion of St. Paul

'The Conversion of St. Paul' by Caravaggio - Santa Maria del Popolo (Rome)
And I fell unto the ground,
and heard a voice saying unto me,
Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

And I answered, Who art thou, Lord?

And he said unto me,
I am Jesus of Nazareth,
whom thou persecutest.

(And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.)

And I said,
What shall I do, Lord?

And the Lord said unto me,
Arise, and go into Damascus;
and there it shall be told thee of all things
which are appointed for thee to do.
Acts 22:7-10

Today the Church celebrates The Conversion of St. Paul

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Papal message to the Media

The Holy Father's Message
for the 42nd World Day of Social Communications
(May 4, 2008)

The Media:
At the Crossroads between Self-Promotion and Service.
Searching for the Truth in order to Share it with Others

"Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. "The theme of this year’s World Communications Day – 'The Media: At the Crossroads between Self-Promotion and Service. Searching for the Truth in order to Share it with Others' – sheds light on the important role of the media in the life of individuals and society. Truly, there is no area of human experience, especially given the vast phenomenon of globalization, in which the media have not become an integral part of interpersonal relations and of social, economic, political and religious development.

"As I said in my Message for this year’s World Day of Peace (1 January 2008): 'The social communications media, in particular, because of their educational potential, have a special responsibility for promoting respect for the family, making clear its expectations and rights, and presenting all its beauty' (No. 5).

2. "In view of their meteoric technological evolution, the media have acquired extraordinary potential, while raising new and hitherto unimaginable questions and problems.

"There is no denying the contribution they can make to the diffusion of news, to knowledge of facts and to the dissemination of information: they have played a decisive part, for example, in the spread of literacy and in socialization, as well as the development of democracy and dialogue among peoples. Without their contribution it would truly be difficult to foster and strengthen understanding between nations, to breathe life into peace dialogues around the globe, to guarantee the primary good of access to information, while at the same time ensuring the free circulation of ideas, especially those promoting the ideals of solidarity and social justice. Indeed, the media, taken overall, are not only vehicles for spreading ideas: they can and should also be instruments at the service of a world of greater justice and solidarity.

"Unfortunately, though, they risk being transformed into systems aimed at subjecting humanity to agendas dictated by the dominant interests of the day.

"This is what happens when communication is used for ideological purposes or for the aggressive advertising of consumer products. While claiming to represent reality, it can tend to legitimize or impose distorted models of personal, family or social life.

"Moreover, in order to attract listeners and increase the size of audiences, it does not hesitate at times to have recourse to vulgarity and violence, and to overstep the mark.

"The media can also present and support models of development which serve to increase rather than reduce the technological divide between rich and poor countries.

3. "Humanity today is at a crossroads.

"One could properly apply to the media what I wrote in the Encyclical Spe Salvi concerning the ambiguity of progress, which offers new possibilities for good, but at the same time opens up appalling possibilities for evil that formerly did not exist (cf. No. 22).

"We must ask, therefore, whether it is wise to allow the instruments of social communication to be exploited for indiscriminate 'self-promotion' or to end up in the hands of those who use them to manipulate consciences.

"Should it not be a priority to ensure that they remain at the service of the person and of the common good, and that they foster 'man’s ethical formation … man’s inner growth'? (ibid.)

"Their extraordinary impact on the lives of individuals and on society is widely acknowledged, yet today it is necessary to stress the radical shift, one might even say the complete change of role, that they are currently undergoing.

"Today, communication seems increasingly to claim not simply to represent reality, but to determine it, owing to the power and the force of suggestion that it possesses.

"It is clear, for example, that in certain situations the media are used not for the proper purpose of disseminating information, but to 'create' events. This dangerous change in function has been noted with concern by many Church leaders.

"Precisely because we are dealing with realities that have a profound effect on all those dimensions of human life (moral, intellectual, religious, relational, affective, cultural) in which the good of the person is at stake, we must stress that not everything that is technically possible is also ethically permissible.

"Hence, the impact of the communications media on modern life raises unavoidable questions, which require choices and solutions that can no longer be deferred.

4. "The role that the means of social communication have acquired in society must now be considered an integral part of the 'anthropological' question that is emerging as the key challenge of the third millennium.

"Just as we see happening in areas such as human life, marriage and the family, and in the great contemporary issues of peace, justice and protection of creation, so too in the sector of social communications there are essential dimensions of the human person and the truth concerning the human person coming into play.

"When communication loses its ethical underpinning and eludes society’s control, it ends up no longer taking into account the centrality and inviolable dignity of the human person.

"As a result it risks exercising a negative influence on people’s consciences and choices and definitively conditioning their freedom and their very lives.

"For this reason it is essential that social communications should assiduously defend the person and fully respect human dignity.

"Many people now think there is a need, in this sphere, for 'info-ethics', just as we have bioethics in the field of medicine and in scientific research linked to life.

5. "The media must avoid becoming spokesmen for economic materialism and ethical relativism, true scourges of our time. Instead, they can and must contribute to making known the truth about humanity, and defending it against those who tend to deny or destroy it.

"One might even say that seeking and presenting the truth about humanity constitutes the highest vocation of social communication.

"Utilizing for this purpose the many refined and engaging techniques that the media have at their disposal is an exciting task, entrusted in the first place to managers and operators in the sector. Yet it is a task which to some degree concerns us all, because we are all consumers and operators of social communications in this era of globalization.

"The new media – telecommunications and internet in particular – are changing the very face of communication; perhaps this is a valuable opportunity to reshape it, to make more visible, as my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II said, the essential and indispensable elements of the truth about the human person (cf. Apostolic Letter The Rapid Development, 10).

6. "Man thirsts for truth, he seeks truth; this fact is illustrated by the attention and the success achieved by so many publications, programmes or quality fiction in which the truth, beauty and greatness of the person, including the religious dimension of the person, are acknowledged and favourably presented.

"Jesus said: 'You will know the truth and the truth will make you free' (Jn 8:32). The truth which makes us free is Christ, because only he can respond fully to the thirst for life and love that is present in the human heart. Those who have encountered him and have enthusiastically welcomed his message experience the irrepressible desire to share and communicate this truth.

"As Saint John writes,

'That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes,
which we have looked upon
and touched with our hands,
concerning the word of life ...
we proclaim also to you,
so that you may have fellowship with us.

'And our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ.
And we are writing this
that our joy may be complete'

(1 Jn 1:1-3).

"Let us ask the Holy Spirit to raise up courageous communicators and authentic witnesses to the truth, faithful to Christ’s mandate and enthusiastic for the message of the faith, communicators who will 'interpret modern cultural needs, committing themselves to approaching the communications age not as a time of alienation and confusion, but as a valuable time for the quest for the truth and for developing communion between persons and peoples' (John Paul II, Address to the Conference for those working in Communications and Culture, 9 November 2002).

"With these wishes, I cordially impart my Blessing to all."


From the Vatican, 24 January 2008,
Feast of Saint Francis de Sales

From Oak Ridge to Missouri

The Holy Father has accepted the retirement of the Most Reverend John J. Leibrecht as Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

His Holiness has named as the new Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau Monsignor James Vann Johnston, Jr., Chancellor and Moderator of the Curia of the Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Bishop-elect Johnston was born in Knoxville in 1959. He attended St. Joseph Elementary School and Knoxville Catholic High School and then studied at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, completing a Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering. After having worked for a while, he entered St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana where he earned a Master’s Degree in Divinity. He would later complete a License in Canon Law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

He was ordained a priest June 9, 1990 for the Diocese of Knoxville. After ordination, he served in the following positions: from 1990 to 1992, Parochial Vicar at St. Mary Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; from 1992 to 1994, Parochial Vicar at St Jude Church in Chattanooga as well as Chaplain and teacher at Notre Dame School; from 1994 to 1996, studies at Catholic University of America; from 1996 to 2001, Parochial Vicar at Holy Ghost Church in Knoxville; from 1996 onward, Chancellor; and from 2001 onward, Moderator of the Curia. He also served as pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Church in Alcoa since 2007.

The roar of the crowds

Both of today’s readings involve crowds. In the first reading (1 Samuel 18:6-9; 19:1-7), the crowds are acclaiming David (making King Saul murderously jealous). In the Gospel (Mark 3:7-12), our Lord has to protect himself from the enthusiastic crowds.

On the one hand, enthusiastic crowds are good thing. We want everyone to be enthusiastic about Christ and about godly ways.

On the other hand, a crowd that sings your praises one moment can easily hurt you the next.

As always, our focus should be on spreading the truth and the love of Christ as effectively as possible.

It is good when people like us and even better if they come to know Christ through us.

But our eyes must always be fixed on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, so that we follow him, not the crowd.

In a less ecumenical time

Sadly, at different times and places, the relationship between Protestants and Catholics has been a highly belligerent one - sometimes literally!

For example, a fellow by the name of Claude Granier was bishop of a region where Catholic-Protestant relations were very often violent. In parts of his diocese, Catholic worship had been actually outlawed and churches were destroyed or taken over.

When the laws were changed in one of those parts of his diocese, the bishop decided to send there a priest by the name of Father Francis who had been ordained only recently. Father Francis would be physically attacked a number of times and beaten, yet he would persevere with great gentleness, compassion, and success.

Before long, Bishop Granier wanted to make Father Francis his successor. It took a long time for the humble priest to agree, but when the bishop died, Father Francis became the new bishop at the age of 35.

His reputation spread widely and he was invited by religious and secular leaders to preach throughout the country. He was even invited by the Pope to mediate a tricky theological dispute.

His writings were also well regarded. He wrote a series of letters to a cousin of his, giving her pointers in cultivating a more spiritual life, and these letters were eventually compiled into a bestselling book.

He helped found a new order of nuns, the first of a number of orders that would take their inspiration from him.

St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva in Switzerland (where Calvin had made his base and had died but a few score of years before), died in his mid-fifties in 1622, was canonized in 1665, and his memory is celebrated on this day.

The orders that look to him as their spiritual father (e.g., the Sisters of the Visitation, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales) continue to this day.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The opposition

Both of today’s readings involve famous and deadly confrontations with powerful opponents.

In the first reading (from 1 Samuel 17), we hear the famous story of David and Goliath’s battle to the death.

In the Gospel (Mark 3:1-6), the Pharisees’ opposition to our Lord reaches a deadly turning point.

Both of these confrontations are instructive for our own lives.

Many times we as people of faith may feel like David, confronted by the malevolent giant of modern culture: armed with the sword of bureaucracy and the spear of mass media.

David’s words may thus give us courage:

Thou comest to me
with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield:
but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts,
the God of the armies of Israel,
which thou hast defied.

(The word translated traditionally here as "shield" is obscure. Several modern translations use "javelin" and the Lectionary uses "scimitar". The word "buckler" - a small shield that can be used to strike an opponent - is also used.)

Many times we may also feel something of what our Lord felt when facing the unlistening obstinance of the Pharisees.

But they remained silent.
Looking around at them with anger
and grieved at their hardness of heart,
Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
He stretched it out and his hand was restored.
The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel
with the Herodians against him to put him to death.

We too face many people in this world whose minds are closed to Christ and the truth.

Our Lord’s example reminds us that it is okay to feel upset about such stubborn rejection and opposition, but that we need to follow his example and persevere in doing what is truly good and in speaking the truth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Where do you get your strength?

"No one ought to rely on his own feelings when he speaks out,
nor be confident in his own strength when he undergoes temptation.

"For whenever we speak prudently as we should,
our wisdom comes from Him,
and whenever we endure evils courageously,
our long-suffering comes from Him."

from a Sermon by Saint Augustine
in today's Office of the Readings.

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Living Catholicism.

The generosity of the priests

Today’s Gospel (Mark 2:23-28) gives us yet another example of the Pharisees attacking our Lord and his disciples with their extreme interpretation of what was lawful and what was not.

Our Lord dismisses their extreme interpretation by referring to an incident that involved David and his men and then by making it clear that “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

The Pharisees seemed to take pleasure in choosing the most burdensome interpretation of the law possible. This is in contrast to the approach that the Church would take, exemplified in Canon 18: that “laws which establish a penalty (or) restrict the free exercise of rights… are subject to strict interpretation”, which effectively means that these laws are to be interpreted in such a way as to be as least restrictive as possible.

(A quick digression on problematic interpretations, the Lectionary translators have chosen the most problematic translation possible in this passage: making it seem as if our Lord got his history wrong. Other translations preserve the ambiguity of the Greek text, e.g., “in the days of Abiathar the high priest”. Abiathar’s father held the office of High Priest at that moment, but Abiathar was on the scene and would be known to history as a very important High Priest.)

The unnecessarily restrictive attitude of the Pharisees stands in dramatic contrast to generous and courageous attitude of Abiathar the priest and his father the High Priest. They let David and his men eat the bread which belonged to them by divine right, because they were hungry and in trouble. These priests would also pay dearly for this generosity, for King Saul would command that they, their family, and all the priests be slaughtered. Abiathar would escape Saul’s vengeance and would long serve as David’s ally, in good times and in bad.

While holding fast to what is true and what is holy, may you and I also be generous and courageous in our own lives, in good times and in bad, like Abiathar the priest.

The bishop’s speech impediment

was a bit of a problem.

Vincent was the solution to that problem. The young man was fervent in his faith and stellar in his studies. The bishop ordained him a deacon and commissioned him to preach on his behalf throughout the diocese.

Then the authorities moved in. They deported the bishop and imprisoned Vincent under the most inhumane conditions. There were even stories of his being tortured, both physically and psychologically.

St. Vincent of Zaragoza (Spain) would die in prison, seventeen hundred years ago, and his memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Thoroughly new

Today is the 21st day of the New Year and already many of our New Year’s Resolutions are ancient history.

Why did we fail? An answer may be found in today’s Gospel (Mark 2:18-22):

No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak.
If he does, its fullness pulls away,
the new from the old, and the tear gets worse.

Many if not all of the resolutions we make at New Year’s (or at other times during the year) fail because they are simply patches that disrupt the fabric of our lives, perhaps even more than they “fix” it.

What we need to do is let Christ make all things new: inside and outside, from top to bottom.

A “Jesus patch” is not enough: we must let Christ continually renew the entire fabric of our lives.

Likewise, being “filled with Spirit” – the “new wine” of Christ – will not be effective unless we let the Spirit of God renew us thoroughly.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Lord Jesus. Make all things new. Make me new, inside and out.

God said WHAT?

One of the key elements of today’s first reading (1 Samuel 15:16-23) is probably very disturbing to most of us: that the Lord appears to have commanded genocide – the extermination of the Amalekite people.

The command was quite explicit in an earlier verse (v. 3) of this chapter:

Go, now, attack Amalek,
and deal with him and all that he has under the ban.
Do not spare him,
but kill men and women, children and infants,
oxen and sheep, camels and asses.

Many scholars attribute the severity of this command to purely human influences (a conscious and/or unconscious “spin” on God’s revelation by Samuel and the people of Israel).

Massacres of this sort were not uncommon in the ancient world nor are they unknown today: extreme acts of horrific deterrence (“Mess with us and we’ll not only kill you but your women and children as well”).

For their part, the people of Israel – carrying the unique message of God’s presence in the world – had been living a precarious existence, threatened and subjugated by alien armies and cultures on every side. Extreme measures of self-preservation were sometimes the only option. (We should consider ourselves greatly blessed that the need for such terrible actions is as far away from us as it is.)

But while such horrific massacres may not have been unusual in that time and place, there was something unusual about this particular campaign of obliteration: Saul was commanded to destroy even the livestock of the enemy – usually taken as spoils of war to feed the victors’ own people.

There was to be no profit from this horrific act of self-preservation. No one would be able to say that this had really been a war about oil (from the fat of calves and rams).

The destruction of the livestock is also about holiness. The people of Israel were to be holy - specially dedicated to the Lord and distinct from other people and cultures – not even sharing their livestock (which had an important role in the sacrificial rituals of Jews and pagans alike).

Indeed, Saul’s offense is primarily holding onto that economically valuable livestock (v. 9b).

They refused to carry out the doom
on anything that was worthwhile,
dooming only what was worthless and of no account.

Saul gives the excuse that he was going to sacrifice these animals to the Lord, but Samuel shoots that answer down contemptuously.

Does the LORD so delight
in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as in obedience to the command of the LORD?

Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission than the fat of rams.

For a sin like divination is rebellion,
and presumption is the crime of idolatry.

These verses are key: both to this horrific passage and to our own lives.

First, obedience to the will of God has absolute primacy over any other aspect of religion: no amount of pious feeling or actual sacrifice comes close.

Second, we need to be very careful about conflating our personal perspective with the will of God that is to be obeyed (presumption is the crime of idolatry).

It is easy for people to take Scripture out of context or to construct elegant syllogisms that overextend the substance of the premises they have selected.

It is also very, very easy to rationalize and to baptize our selfish interests as the mind of God.

Discernment of the will of God is no merely intellectual exercise nor is it always easy, but it is absolutely necessary.

We must pray and listen. We must discern. We must obey in love. And we must act.

Lead me, O God, and make me follow.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Agnes was a little girl

Her faith was pure as snow
And everywhere that Jesus went
Agnes was sure to go.

Christians were being grabbed in the streets or dragged from their homes. Some had their heads cut off. Others weren’t so lucky: they were cruelly tortured before they were killed.

The ones who were left found comfort in their faith and in the grace of Christ. They also told each other about the heroism of those who had already died for the faith.

Many talked about a little girl named Agnes, whose name meant “lamb.”

The brutes had taken her too, but she refused to give up her faith, so they killed her.

If that little girl could be so brave for Christ, Christians told each other, we can be too.

Agnes’ name would be remembered every time they gathered and, seventeen hundred years later, Agnes’ name is still included in the Roman Canon, the first Eucharistic Prayer.

St. Agnes is especially remembered every year on this day.

(In Rome on this day every year there is a special blessing of lambs. Wool from these lambs is later made into ceremonial cloths [pallia or palliums] that are placed by the tomb of St. Peter and then worn by archbishops throughout the world.)

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Change the world

“We thought we were going to change the world.”

So goes a frequent lament of certain members of the “baby boom” generation: individuals whose narcissism went from naïve ambition in the sixties to various other forms of self-absorption in the decade since.

Well, today’s readings tell us that the world can be changed and that we can be involved in that change.

But narcissism is not going to change the world (not for the better, anyway).

Today’s first reading (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6) gives us this powerful word of the Lord:

It is too little, he says,
for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation
may reach to the ends of the earth.

On one level, this is a messianic prophecy, fulfilled most perfectly by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but it is also a word of the Lord to Isaiah, as a “change agent” of the Lord for Israel and beyond.

It is also a word of the Lord for us.

God can do great things in and through us, not just for the body of believers, but indeed for the entire world.

I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation
may reach to the ends of the earth.

This is not something you and I do in isolation, of course. As St. Paul says in today’s second reading (1 Corinthians 1:1-3), we are

called to be holy,
with all those everywhere
who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
their Lord and ours.

These words St. Paul addresses to the Christians of Corinth, but obviously to all of us as well, for we are all part of the one body of Christ throughout the world.

But just as we are not “change agents” disconnected from each other, neither are we “change agents” simply by virtue of our numbers and our dissemination throughout the societies of this world.

The real and ultimate “change agent” is identified at the very beginning of today’s Gospel (John 1:29-34) by the immortal words of Saint John the Baptist:

Behold, the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world.

You and I can perhaps do little to change the world.

We as a group of people who call themselves Christians and Catholics can do a little more, but not enough – not by a long shot – not against the powerful elitists of “modern” culture, not against the violent ideologues who seek to manipulate hundreds of millions to follow their homicidal perversions of faith.

Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the eternal Son of the Father, is the ultimate “change agent” – even taking away the sin of the world.

We can indeed be involved in changing the world, but we do that most effectively, powerfully, and positively by our union with the person and the mission of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Live in Jesus,
Change the world.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Unsuccessful son becomes commander-in-chief

Prior to his getting into government, he had not exactly been an overwhelming success.

He was given a job, but he was clueless and ended up having to rely on the hired help for direction and even for pocket change.

But then, strange things happened and he became the commander in chief.

So we hear in today’s first reading (1 Samuel 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1), as Saul fails to find the lost animals he had been charged with recovering, even with the help of one of his father’s hired hand.

He could not find his something-or-other with one hand.

And then he becomes king.

What were his qualifications? He was tall and handsome and that was about it.

The people had wanted a king, Saul looked the part, God gave them the favor they asked, and they would bear the consequences.

We too need to be careful what we ask for, especially in prayer.

The people rejected the will of God and yet asked God for what they wanted, through Samuel his agent, with ultimately tragic results.

This is an important reminder that in our prayers must be attuned to the will of God, not to our own desires (which are often shallow and misdirected).

First and last, when we speak to God, our prayer must be Thy will be done.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The king you have chosen

This year, the people of the United States will choose a new President.

The political battles are intense. People argue not just about particular issues or the personal qualities of particular candidates: they also argue about what the role of government should be in the life of the people.

On one level, today’s first reading (1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22a) is also an argument about the role of government in the life of the people, as Samuel warns people about choosing a king.

The more fundamental issue, however, is not Israel’s rejection of tribal confederation in favor of big government: it is a rejection of God.

It is not you they reject,
they are rejecting me as their king.

Who is our king? What rules our life?

Are we ruled by pursuit of pleasure? By ambition? By greed? By fear?

Who is our King?

In what we say and what we do, in all of the choices of our lives, may Christ always be the King we have chosen.

Women who desire to love

"The Dominican Sisters of Mary are religious women who desire to love and serve God through the profession of the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. As Dominicans, inspired by the call of Pope John Paul II for a 'new evangelization,' we seek to preach and teach the Truth of Jesus Christ.

"Since we began in 1997, nearly 80 young women have entered our community responding to God's call of a vocation to religious life.

"In His fidelity, God continues to call young women to love Him and be loved by Him in the heart of His Church. And these women are saying "Yes" to the Lord, in imitation of Mary, the most perfect follower of her Son."


(from the website of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist)


(from the Vocations website of the Diocese of Saginaw)

Happy Vocations Awareness Week!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

He began to rethink his life

He was twenty years old.

His mother and father were dead and he needed to move on.

But to what?

Unlike many his age, he did not choose to escape into the arms of this world's comforts and pleasures.

He chose to cling more fervently to Christ.

He sold everything he had, gave the proceeds to the poor (after ensuring for the care and education of his younger sister), went alone into the desert, and devoted himself entirely to prayer and solitude.

It turned out to be a cutting-edge move. Many people came to hear about the radical Christian lifestyle that Anthony was pursuing in the desert and decided to imitate him in his imitation of Christ.

St. Anthony of Egypt came to be known as the Father of Monasticism. He died at the age of 105 in the year 356 and his memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

God is not magic

"An army that carries the Ark before it is invincible.”

So said a character in the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

So thought the People of Israel in today’s first reading (1 Samuel 4:1-11):

"Let us fetch the ark of the LORD from Shiloh
that it may go into battle among us
and save us from the grasp of our enemies."

This they did
and when the dust of battle had cleared,
the Army of Israel was defeated, losing 30,000 soldiers,
and the Ark of the Lord was captured by the pagans.

What went wrong?

First of all, God is not magic: he is the King of Universe and not someone to be manipulated or used like a magic wand to get the things we want or think we need.

Second, although sacred places and sacred things have a role in our relationship with God, the most critical elements of our relationship with God are his grace and our fidelity.

The elders of Israel in today’s reading asked the right question but came up with the wrong answer, overlooking their own impiety and disobedience.

This reading also reminds of the importance of prudence and courage: the Israelites not only lacked fidelity, they also lacked prudence, while the courage of the Philistines carried the day.

As you and I go through the challenges and battles of our own lives, may we be as prudent and courageous as we can, but most of all may we faithful to the Lord and focused on drawing ever closer to him no matter what.

How to Discover God's Plan for You

8 Steps for Discernment

  1. "Be Quiet in order to hear the Lord's voice calling. Take time to pray and meditate in silence about your vocation, especially in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

  2. "Find a spiritual director - somebody you can be open with - who can help you to develop your relationship with God and to know yourself better.

  3. "Ask a priest, brother or sister in your parish to put you in touch with a vocation director.

  4. "Read up on religious and priestly life. Look at a good periodical on vocations and check out the ads.

  5. "Write to the communities that interest you.

  6. "Visit the ones you feel called to.

  7. "Build a relationship with the one where you have a sense of coming home. Get involved in its summer or monthly programs. Don't just talk the talk - walk the walk with them as well.

  8. "Wait for the Lord. Discerning your vocation is a process. God's timing is always perfect - but seldom seems soon enough!

"Remember, if you ASK, SEEK, KNOCK, you may not find the vocation you thought you would, but by trying you'll have found out one of the most important things in life - self-knowledge."

"The Community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal was begun in 1987 by eight Capuchin friars desiring to work more definitively for personal and communal reform within the Catholic Church. The life and apostolate of the friars are rooted in the ideals and spirit of the Capuchin reform born in the early 16th century."

Since then, this community has continued to grow and expand. The picture at the right shows some of the most recently professed brothers.

"These capable young friars testify that God is still calling young people to make a generous gift of themselves in poverty, chastity, and obedience."

(from the website of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal: http://www.franciscanfriars.com/)

Are we afraid?

"If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us?

"Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?

"No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.

"No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.

"And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ!

"He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return.

"Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life."

- Pope Benedict XVI
April 24, 2005

(from the Vocations website of the Diocese of St. Petersburg)
Happy National Vocations Awareness Week!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Listen... and do

In this first week of Ordinary Time this year, the Lectionary is walking through the beginning of the first book of Samuel and the Gospel according to Mark, passage by passage.

Today, this walk-through has brought us to a very happy coincidence: in the very middle of National Vocations Awareness Week in the United States, both readings speak wonderfully to the reality of God’s call.

The first reading (1 Samuel 1:1-10, 19-20) gives us the well-known, yet still powerful account of God’s call to Samuel and those perfect words that the Eli the priest teaches to Samuel: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.”
Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”
“I did not call you,” Eli said. “Go back to sleep.”
So he went back to sleep.
Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli.
“Here I am,” he said. “You called me.”
But Eli answered, “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.”
At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,
because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.
The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time.
Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am.
You called me.”
Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.
So Eli said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

The verses selected by the Lectionary keep us focused on the call of Samuel. When the whole of the chapter is read, the account becomes more complicated and yet also very instructive.

In the verses after Samuel says “Speak, for your servant is listening,” the Lord tells Samuel of terrible things that will befall his mentor Eli and Eli’s family.

Then, in the morning, Eli presses Samuel to tell him what he had heard. When Samuel tells him, Eli responds, “He is the Lord. He will do what he judges best.”

Thus in this chapter we see a clear and tragic contrast. Eli has been given wisdom from the Lord – he is able to discern that it is the Lord who is calling Samuel (something unheard of in that time and place) and he is able to accept God’s will, even when it means disaster for himself and his family – but Eli does not act: he did not act to stop the sacrilegious crimes being committed by his sons nor does he repent and take action when Samuel tells him what the Lord said.

Samuel, on the other hand, listens to the Lord and responds with action, proving to be a powerfully effective instrument of the Lord.

The question then before you and me is this:

Are we going to be like Samuel, or are we going to be like Eli?

Are we going to respond to the Lord’s call with action, or are we just going to sit back and do nothing?

If we choose action, we could not find a more beautiful example than today’s Gospel (Mark 1:29-39):

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn,
he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.

For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons
throughout the whole of Galilee.

Our Lord sees and instantly responds to the needs of individuals, works late into the night to minister to the needs of the people, spends significant time in private prayer, and keeps moving always to find new opportunities to spread the truth and the love of God.

No matter what our vocation may be, may you and I be more faithful and active in listening and responding to the call of God in our lives.

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at DeoOmnisGloria.com.

What parents can do to foster vocations

(Well, maybe that would not be a good approach... but seriously...)

"Some parents talk directly about vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Others simply try to help their children to learn Christian values. Here are some suggestions parents and families can do to foster vocations:
  • "Talk positively and enthusiastically about activities of priests and religious.

  • "Encourage role playing for the very young, help them to think about ways in which they can care for and help people.

  • "Make prayer a normal part of family decision-making.
    Look for opportunities to share with those who have less. Teach children to share.

  • "Discuss your response when a neighbor is sick, unemployed, lonely, or misunderstood.

  • "Encourage your children to volunteer their time, talents, and gifts.

  • "Pray with and for each family member.

  • "Speak about your life – as a husband or wife, father or mother – as a vocation.

  • "Set aside a family time each week – give each child time to share.

  • "Give children opportunities to lead prayer and to pray in their own words.

  • "Invite priests and religious into your home.

  • "Challenge the young adults to look at church-related vocations. Tell them about gifts of ministry you see in them.

  • "Ask your children’s friends what they are thinking about for life choices. They may not say anything but on the other hand, they may pick up your interest and be more prepared to talk to you than to their own parents.

  • "Take part in parish activities together as a family. "

(from the Vocations website of the Diocese of Austin)

Happy National Vocations Awareness Week!

The monk's day

"The monk's day is centered on the Liturgy and the Divine Office, whose heart is the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for there he finds the highest expression of his prayer and God's greatest glory. Outside of these times singing together the Lord's praise, the monk is engaged in more personal prayer, in study, and in the tasks that obedience assigns him....

"Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek is a Benedictine monastery in the diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma....

"The Divine Office and Holy Mass are celebrated in Latin and sung in Gregorian Chant. With the approval of the Pontifical Commission ‘Ecclesia Dei’ and the consent of Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa, priests at Clear Creek celebrate according to the 1962 Roman Missal, with some minor modifications at High Mass. They also observe the complete Benedictine horarium....
(above foto: Bill Sherman, Tulsa World - others from monastery website)

"As of January 2nd, 2008, the monks of Our Lady of Clear Creek Monastery are no longer living in the temporary shelter afforded by a converted horse barn. Thanks to the prayers and generosity of a great number of our friends—known or unknown to us—we have left our dear cowboy Bethlehem on the banks of Clear Creek to take up residence in a truly monastic structure, the building we refer to as the 'residence'."

(from the Website of Our Lady of the Annunciation monastery)

Happy National Vocations Awareness week!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

That crazy lady

Many of us who have spent a lot of time around churches may be able to resonate with the experience of Eli in today’s first reading (1 Samuel 1:9-20).

How many times have we seen a woman or a man behaving strangely in and around a church, someone who appears to be drunk or mentally ill?

Many times, they are indeed mentally ill or impaired in some way, but (as experience and also today’s reading teach us) not always.

We must exercise discernment and be extremely prudent, of course, protecting ourselves, other parishioners, and also the sacredness of our churches.

But while we must be prudent and properly protective, we must also be careful about snap judgments and we must always be compassionate and charitable.

Perhaps that person is another Hannah: a holy person in a difficult situation.

But even if that person is “crazy” or “drunk”, while remaining prudent and protective, we must always show that person, just like anyone else, the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The life of Dominican friars

"A Vocation Weekend is
a no-strings-attached chance to spend time learning about the life of Dominican friars,
to pray with us,
to talk
with our student brothers,
to meet our older brethren,
and most of all
to listen for the voice of Jesus
who continually calls men
to preach
for the salvation of souls."

Next Vocation Weekend: February 8-10, 2008
at the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC

(from the Vocations blog of
the Order of Preachers - Province of St. Joseph:

Happy National Vocations Awareness Week!

For Priestly Vocations

Lord Jesus Christ,
Shepherd of souls,
who called the apostles
to be fishers of men,
raise up new apostles

in your holy Church.

Teach them
that to serve you
is to reign:
to possess you
is to possess all things.


in the hearts of your people
the fire of zeal for souls.

Make them eager to spread your Kingdom upon earth.

Grant them courage to follow you,
who are the Way,
the Truth,
and the Life;
who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

(from the vocations website of the Diocese of Corpus Christi)

Happy National Vocations Awareness Week!

Monday, January 14, 2008


Today’s first reading starts Ordinary Time with the first eight verses of the first book of Samuel, beginning the account of the events leading up to Samuel’s birth to Hannah, a woman who had been barren.

Although we know that Hannah will give birth, today’s first reading ends with Hannah being despondent and her husband attempting to comfort her.

“Hannah, why do you weep,
and why do you refuse to eat?
Why do you grieve?
Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

Nice try, one might imagine Hannah saying, although no response is recorded here.

Tragically, in that time and place, the bearing of children (especially sons) was seen as absolutely critical to a woman’s value in society. As this reading demonstrates, a barren woman was sometimes even a target of derision.

Today, even more tragically, society’s view is different. Indeed, in some circles, childbearing is actively discouraged.

The truth, of course, lies in the middle: the opportunities of childbearing and childrearing are wonderful gifts from God. They are not burdens to be shunned or minimized nor are they magic paths to self-esteem.

Indeed, although she was despondent, Hannah knew this, that children were a gift from God, and so she would go to the Lord for help, rather than the pagan fertility practices in the vicinity.

We can also learn a powerful lesson even in Hannah’s husband’s words of attempted comfort.

To many of us, the husband’s words seem rather egotistical: Am I not more to you than ten sons?

One guesses that this man really does think he’s God’s gift to women, and of course he certainly is not...

...but Jesus is.

The words of Hannah’s husband could be literally true (without any hyperbole) only when applied to God himself. Children are a gift from God, but only God could be a greater gift.

Thus, those who have not been blessed with children can find comfort in continuing fidelity to God’s will in their lives, both by avoiding the immoral paths hawked by some fertility practices today and also avoiding the selfishness that today’s society urges us to pursue (with or without children).

And, for those who are called, the words of Hannah’ husband (imperfect though they may have been at the time) may find perfect fulfillment by taking Christ as one’s bridegroom: in the promises and solemn vows of celibacy and chastity. This is an especially important point at the beginning of National Vocations Awareness Week: children are a wonderful gift from God, but for those to whom it is given, a celibate relationship with Christ is better than any gift.

No matter what the Lord has called us to or whatever gifts he has offered to us, may we be faithful to the Lord’s call and use well his gifts, for the good of others and the greater glory of God.


"'Be prepared to put your life on the line in order to enlighten the world with the truth of Christ; to respond with love to hatred and disregard for life; to proclaim the hope of the risen Christ in every corner of the earth.'
- Pope Benedict XVI
Message for World Youth Day 2008

"What is God's Will for Your Life?

"The process you will follow to answer this fundamental question is called discernment.

"Your vocation as a Christian will be the particular way you live the universal call to holiness.

"Through prayer, study, conversation with others and reflection, you will be able to discover God's plan for you.... What will be your path to Heaven?

The Importance of Prayer

"Most important in discerning God's will is setting aside time daily to talk with God and to listen in silence. Simple prayer is sufficient.

"Following are three steps for seeking to know God's will:

  • "'Here I am Lord. Whatever you want me to do, I will do it. You gave me life; the least I can do is give my life back to you, to do with me what you know will make me most happy and fulfilled.'

  • "'What do you want me to do? Lord, please give me the wisdom to know what you are calling me to be, and the courage to follow whatever you ask.' I trust that God wishes to reveal himself to me, even more than I desire to know His will.

  • "'After taking the previous two steps, I can imagine myself in the seminary, or in a religious community. If I feel a deep and lasting peace with these thoughts and imaginings (recognizing the challenges that come with any state in life), then I should go ahead and give it a try.'"

(from the Vocations website of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis)

Happy National Vocations Awareness Week!

Monastic Experience

Mount Saint Mary's Abbey in Wrentham, Massachusetts is a monastery of nuns of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance: the first of that Order to be founded in the United States.

"Our life is centered around three integral facets of the Cistercian charism: prayer, the reading of Sacred Scripture, and manual labor. We follow the Rule of St. Benedict that exhorts us to support ourselves by the work of our hands, and thus, our work contributes to our worship of God. Because of its contemplative character, our work frees us to focus on God, and in this work we try to give expression to the values we cherish: integrity, simplicity, and goodness. Not only does work allow us to support ourselves, it becomes one means by which we in the workplace foster reverence for each of our Sisters, and cultivate the gifts of love, joy, and peace."

They are hosting a Monastic Experience Weekend February 15-17, 2008 for single women under 40 years of age who discerning their vocation in the Church.

Contact their Vocation Director for details.

(A tip of the appropriate head covering to Cardinal Seán)

Happy National Vocation Awareness Week!

(updated from a previous post)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Not worthy

I don’t know about you, but I am often reminded of how I am not the best representative of God’s truth, love, and grace in the world.

Other people are holier.

Other people are more faithful in their thoughts, words, and deeds.

Other people are even better at the things that I haphazardly strive to do in the Lord’s vineyard. (God knows that there are much better Catholic bloggers out there.)

I was reminded again of this by today’s Gospel (Matthew 3:13-17) in which Saint John the Baptist says to our Lord:

“I need to be baptized by you,
and yet you are coming to me?”

Jesus said to him in reply,
“Allow it now,
for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfill all righteousness.”

Here we have the greatest example ever of a minister being less worthy than the recipient: in this case, infinitely less worthy.

In fact, it was precisely in accepting baptism from the unworthy hand of John that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – the sinless and worthy Lamb of God – made baptism itself worthy. In this action, Christ bound himself with the action forever. Herein thus is the foundation of the foundation of the Sacraments.

The Second Vatican Council put it this way:

"By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them'" (Matt. 18:20). (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7)

You and I may often feel like John the Baptist: an opportunity comes for us to minister, but realization of our unworthiness keeps us from going forward.

We need to keep our ears open to the words of Christ pushing us forward: Christ, whose grace accomplishes the real work.

Of course, we need to be prudent. We should not be like the guys in those commercials who think they can fly a helicopter or stop a nuclear meltdown just because they made a good hotel choice the night before.

Yet we also need at every opportunity to be faithful and responsive to the Lord, whose unworthy instruments we are.

The essence of what it means...

"...to be a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia is summarized in the community’s Ratio Institutionis, which outlines our program of initial and ongoing formation. Our charism is defined by the following characteristics:

"Contemplative Focus

"An Active Apostolate

"Strong Community Life

"Love of the Church and Traditional Religious Life"

"Several times a year we have Vocation Retreats for those who are discerning their vocation (the next one is May 21-25, 2008).... If you are interested in attending this retreat, contact the Vocation Director to sign up. Call us if you are interested in an informal Weekend Vocation Retreat experience to expose you to our life and prayer."

Vocation Office
801 Dominican Drive
Nashville, TN 37228-1909
(615) 256-0147

from the website of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia, Nashville, Tennessee

Happy National Vocation Awareness Week!

What do you desire?

"Deep inside every man is a desire to do something important with his life, to be a hero, and to change the world.

"The Father has put this desire in your heart and He wants to fulfill that call in you.

"Listen to His voice in prayer. "

"He is speaking in the depths of your heart right now. He is calling you to do something important with your life. He is calling you to give your life to Him. He is calling you to fulfill your call, your vocation.

"Jesus Christ is calling you to holiness and wants to help you get there."

—Pope Benedict XVI

(from the Vocations pages of the Diocese of Harrisburg)

Happy Vocations Awareness Week!

The Baptism of the Lord

After Jesus was baptized,
he came up from the water and behold,
the heavens were opened for him,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying,

“This is my beloved Son,
with whom I am well pleased.”

(from the Gospel today, Matthew 3:13-17, on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

He must increase

Our Lord himself said that no man born of woman is greater than John the Baptist.

And at the end of today’s Gospel (John 3:22-30), this great man says of our Lord.

He must increase;
I must decrease.

No words of ours could be a greater guide for our lives than these words of John the Baptist.

Christ must increase; we must decrease.

Christ’s love and grace must be advanced in the world through us while our own imperfections and perceived needs should fall by the wayside.

In what we do and in what we say, in what we think and in what we feel, Christ must increase and we must decrease.

In our successes and in our failures, in our advancements and in our struggles, Christ must increase and we must decrease.

In our communal worship and in our private prayer, Christ must increase and we must decrease.

By the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, he must increase and we must decrease.

American to Bangladesh

The Holy Father today named as Apostolic Nuncio to Bangladesh Monsignor Joseph Marino, a priest of the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama (USA) currently working at the Apostolic Nunciature in Great Britain. He is being raised to the dignity of Archbishop and assigned the titular see of Natchitoches, Louisiana)

Archbishop-elect Marino was born in Birmingham in 1953 and was ordained a priest in 1979. He has a doctorate in Canon Law and entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1988. He worked successively at the Vatican Embassies in the Philippines, Uruguay, and Nigeria, then at the Secretary of State’s Section for Relations with States, and finally at his post in Great Britain. He knows English, Italian, French, and Spanish.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Welcoming the leper

In today’s Gospel (Luke 5:12-16), our Lord cures a man of leprosy.

Then he ordered him not to tell anyone, but
“Go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”

Until relatively recently, when effective treatments were established, lepers were quarantined from society, because people feared getting this repugnant disease.

There always had been instances where apparent cases of leprosy would clear up. In ancient Judaism, priests were the ones who would welcome these cured lepers back into the community.

Today, physical leprosy is a treatable disease, but there are also other kinds of lepers: not people who are helpless victims of a disease, but people who choose to hold onto repugnant doctrines or moral practices. Communities of faith understandably wish to keep these people at a distance, lest they be associated with the obstinately-held profound errors or grave and manifest sins of these individuals.

Yet, while we must be very clear not to associate ourselves with such sins and errors and to be truthful about such sins and errors, as Christians we must also reach out to these individuals with compassion, as Christ did to the lepers of old and pray fervently for their conversion.

Then, when they have been converted, they can and should be welcomed back warmly, through the ministry of the priest in sacramental confession, into our loving midst.

We need to be clear about what is right and what is wrong. We also need to careful about the appearance of condoning what is morally or doctrinally repugnant.

Yet we must always and everywhere follow the example of Christ and reach out with compassion to those who hold onto what is morally and doctrinally repugnant. We must pray for them and when the grace of conversion takes root within them, welcome them with love into our community of faith.