Nota Bene

Humble (oh really...?) opinions on matters of faith
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What I'm Reading
(The Bible should always be assumed...)

The New Faithful
by Colleen Carroll

by Fr. Francis Sullivan, SJ

Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism
by Irene Lape

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Friday, May 31, 2002

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Homily for Sunday, June 2

Please Note: Fr. Shawn's blog, Onealism is now 'off the air.' Nevertheless, he has asked me to post his Sunday homily on my blog. It will usually be posted no earlier than Friday afternoon.

Readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
1 Cor 10:16-17
Jn 6:51-58

If only Moses knew how profound his words were. Moses
gave many profound lessons to the people of Israel
while he led them to the land promised to them by God,
but even Moses could not imagine how his words would
have new meaning with the coming of the Living,
Eternal Word – that is, the coming of Jesus to this
world as a man. The teaching that Moses gave to his
people continues to hold true today. We continue to
lack true life if we continue to live by bread alone.
We continue to lack true life unless we live according
to every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

On this day, we celebrate the radical way that the
Eternal Word literally gave of himself so that we can
be united with him now and forever. Many parishes
will have processions and devotional gatherings today.
But even after this day is over and the processions
conclude, the Word maintains its power. This is a
great day for devotions, but unfortunately, this is
also a great day for the seeds of enthusiasm to fall
only upon the shallow ground of shallow souls. It is
easy to be spiritually moved for one day in our lives;
it is much more difficult to be moved by that same
spirit for many days. After all, the people of Israel
were filled with joy when they departed from Egypt,
but very soon after that, their joy turned into

In order to keep the joy that we celebrate on this
day, I suggest that we accept the advice that Moses
has given us with greater seriousness than we have
ever accepted it until now. We should live according
to every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
In order to know the Eternal Word today better than we
knew him yesterday, we should grow in greater
knowledge of the Word that he has given us in Sacred
Scripture. In order to know how much Jesus has loved
us from the beginning, we should know him as he has
been with us from the beginning – as the Word. It is
good to have a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, but
devotion should never be the same as diversion. If a
person truly has a devotion to Jesus, then the same
person seeks to know everything about Jesus, his
Father, and the Holy Spirit. The Body of Christ is
mystery without limit, but we can grow in wonder, awe,
and appreciation of this divine mystery by reading and
praying Scripture. It is in Scripture that the divine
mystery, especially the Eucharist, is revealed to us
in such a beautiful way as we celebrate today.

Many people prefer to read various writings of the
saints. I like to read many of the same works. But
this could be the time for us instead to read the
writings that inspired the saints to become saints.
These men and women became saints by reading the
Bible. These people became saints because they read
the Gospels and they said, “I want to live as Jesus
did.” We can only imagine that many saints prayed
before Jesus in the Eucharist and that they prayed
before Jesus by saying, “Thank you, Lord, for all the
ways that you have given yourself to us – in your
Body, in your Blood, and in your Word. Help me to be
as you are. Help me to live according to the Gospel.”

I cannot begin to thank God enough for inviting all of
us to feed on him today. I cannot begin to thank God
enough for all of the ways that he feeds us and for
all of the ways that he puts his love into our hearts.
All of the gifts that God gives us are food for the
journey while we are pilgrims on this earth. The Word
is what he has given us to know how much he has loved
us from the beginning. The Eucharist is what he has
given us as a fulfillment of the promises of the Word
come true. We must appreciate all of these signs and
wonders which each new day.


Amy Welborn on Catholic Rage

No, this isn't a new version of road rage where angry Catholics heave their copies of Gather Comprehensive at the guitar section strumming right next to the altar. Rather, it is Amy Welborn's well thought out reflection on the motivations behind the sharp anger that many American Catholics have been feeling and expressing in a variety of way (including through blogging) over the past few months.

I'm not sure why I'm actually placing a link to it here, as if you readers would come here before going to Amy's blog.

Although this is a good piece of analysis, there are certainly more questions to be raised (do you have any, dear readers?), more answers to be explored. I will try to do that from time to time.


Today's Music Recommendation

Magnificat in D major, BWV 243, by J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

This being the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I felt it appropriate to recommend a setting of her song of praise, the magnificat. This setting by J. S. Bach was first performed in Leipzip on Christmas Day, 1732, the first major work performed by him in his tenure as the cantor at St. Thomas' in Leipzig. It was originally in the key of E flat and had texts of four Christmas anthems interpolated into the magnificat text. Bach later revised it, transposing it down to D, and taking out the Christmas texts so that it could be performed appropriately on any occasion.

I'll be up front and say that I do not prefer baroque vocal writing. To me, it is more instrumental in its style than purely vocal. Many baroque choruses sound like pieces written for an organ and only later transposed for a choir. Still, I think that Bach captures, within his own particular style, the message and various emotions of this beautiful text in this multi-movement setting. And, aside from his own composing genius, I believe that it was also his deep faith which allowed to treat this text as masterfully as he did.

For more on Bach or this particular piece, go to the page dedicated to him at


A new blogger responds to my comments on Dan Carpenter's mourning of Archbishop Weakland

Karen Marie Knapp, author of the new blog, From the Anchor Hold, responds to my post from May 29 entitled 'The Indianapolis Star running to the defense of Weakland in which I commented on Star columnist Dan Carpenter's defense of Archbishop Weakland.

As an apparent member of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Milwauke, Ms. Knapp seems to have significant respect for her retired archbishop. In addition, she tries to show how he avoided being identified with any self-styled ecclesiastical interest group, shunning both meetings of the Wanderer Forum and Call to Action in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

I appreciate gaining the perspective on Archbishop Weakland from a member of the faithful in his archdiocese rather than from those looking in from the outside--including myself. And, believe me, I have no interest in standing on rooftops to try to paint a picture, one way or the other, of Archbishop Weakland or any other prelate for that matter.

When I wrote my earlier post in response to Dan Carpenter's column, I was simply interested in giving a different perspective on his describing Archbishop Weakland as humble. I felt that Mr. Carpenter's column was rather one-sided and didn't portray a complete picture of the retired archbishop (could a column do this?).

I recognize that every follower of Christ--from the laity through the bishops--are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. I just wanted to point out in my post my opinion that, were Weakland to have openly acknowledged the truth about his own sinfulness in his relationship with Paul Marcoux instead of trying to hide it through the settlement, himself and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee would still have been protected from harm by our mericful and provident God.

As I stated above, I do not intend to make my blog a pulpit from which I can publicize the wrongdoings of priests and bishops that I do not like. Were I to do so, there wouldn't be much to write, for I have few strong personal, emotional opinions about priests and prelates, especially those outside of my own local Church. I mainly wrote as I did about Archbishop Weakland in response to a local columnist. I was simply curious why a writer for the Indianapolis Star would feel the need to defend the retired archbishop of Milwaukee, especially when the majority of his newspaper's readership probably had no strong opinion about him to begin with.

What I do want to do with my blog is write about matters of faith in a spirit of humility. A prayer of St. Ephrem, sent to me by Ms. Knapp, is both one that I would like myself, other Catholic bloggers, heck, all the faithful to pray often, and one that I hope is reflective of the manner of discourse in my own writing:

"O Lord and Master of my life,
take from me the spirit of sloth,
meddling, lust of power and idle talk;
But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience and love to thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King,
grant me to see my own sins,
and not to judge my brother,
for thou art blessed unto ages of ages.
Amen." - Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian


Comment Link Now Added to Nota Bene

Now you can let the whole world know what you think of my mindless drivel that I call writing. Just hit the comment link below each post and fire away.


Mail Bag

A couple of days ago, Amy Welborn reflected upon all of the heated commentary and finger pointing regarding the situation among Catholic bloggers and asked the question 'Are we hypocrites?' In a post in reaction to her question, I stated that I felt that I had asking the same question for a while, albeit in a manner much less direct than that used by Amy.

Now a reader has chimed in with his own balanced comments:

It seems to me everyone wants to blame their political enemies for the current crisis. The "orthodox" blame liturgical creativity and lax bishops. The "reformers" blame "impossible" sexual morality teachings. It seems to me both are right and both are wrong at the same time.

Is The Situation then a mystery? I suppose so, at least in so far as human sinfulness is in the face of such a gracious God.


My 'Faith and Family' column in today's edition of The Criterion

As some of you may know, last month The Criterion, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, started publishing a monthly column of mine entitled 'Faith and Family.' The second installment of this column appears in today's edition. As it does not appear in the online edition of The Criterion, I have copied it for you here. Let me know what you think. Writer wannabes like me need feedback.

Faith and Family

And you, my child, shall be the prophet of the Most High
Lk 1:76

These words were sung by Zechariah when his son, John the Baptist, was a mere eight days old, on the day of his formal naming and circumcision. Zechariah himself was a man of high repute among the Jewish people, being a priest who had the privilege of offering a sacrifice of incense within the holy of holies in the Temple. And yet he knew from an earlier revelation from the archangel Gabriel that, in this small newborn, there was a one greater than any priest of any of the tribes of Israel.

When you read the story of Zechariah, his wife Elizabeth, and the birth of their son in the first chapter of Luke, you might conclude that this was an extraordinary miracle brought about at that place and time in order to prepare the way for the arrival of Jesus. And, on an important level, this is indeed true. And yet all parents have the same high hopes for their newborns that Zechariah had for his son John. All parents, as great as their reputation might be in the their family, their workplace, or in their community, hold in their hands a prophet of the Most High when they embrace their newborn child. And before a prophet one can only stand humbly and listen attentively to the word of the Lord being spoken to them.

I myself was given this privilege recently when my wife Cindy gave birth on May 1 to our son, Michael Joseph. Although he has spoken no words that I can understand, he, in his very person, is a prophet of the Most High to me and his mother. His birth and the few short days that I have lived with him have provided me with one revelation after another of the powerful and mysterious presence of God in my midst. When Cindy and I hold him in our arms, something of this presence is announced to us and to the world.

Now such an arrangement might, on the surface, seem to be the opposite of what it should be. After all, parents are rightly called in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the “first heralds for their children” of the “mysteries of the faith” (2225). In the Rite of Baptism of Children, when after the parents ask for their child to be baptized, the celebrant tells them clearly that they are now responsible for “training them in the practice of the faith.”

Nevertheless, the Catechism also notes that children themselves “contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents” (2227). Our children can help us grow in holiness simply by being the beautiful creations of God that they are. When Gabriel had told Zechariah how he and his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, he told the priest that John would “turn the hearts of parents to their children” (Lk 1:17b).

When we turn our hearts to our children—whether they are newborns, toddlers, youngsters, teenagers, or even adults—we look at them with the eye of our souls. We begin to see how, in their birth and growth, we have worked with God to continue his miraculous work of creation. On the day they were born and every day thereafter, our children became for us prophets of the Most High. They revealed to us how God works wonders with us, in our lives. They bring us close to the holiness of God and invite us to share in it.


It takes one to know one:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Zep 3:14-18a
Rom 12:9-16
Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6
Lk 1:39-56

When I was a kid, I wasn't able to think well on my feet. If another kid insulted me in some way, I was never able to think of some quick verbal barb to throw back at him. And so I usually depended on the old standby insult of many kids: "It takes one to know one."

That little pre-pubescent proverb may have had little effect on those who scorned me, but it may nevertheless contain some real truth for Mary and Elizabeth. The former seems to have left her home fairly soon after the angel Gabriel delivered God's message to her. Although it is pure speculation, I would not be surprised if many of Mary's relatives and friends looked askance at her story. Some may have even been hostile to her or, at the least, simply thought her to be delusional.

In the midst of this situation, I could see why she would want to go away and visit her cousin Elizabeth. Maybe it would only be her, about whose miraculous pregnancy Gabriel had told her, who would believer her and accept her (outside of Joseph, of course). And accept her she did. As soon as she entered Elizabeth's home, the old woman, herself having been blessed, knew that her young visitor was also blessed. It takes one to know one.

To any other person, Elizabeth's greeting and Mary's magnificat would have seemed ludicrous and outrageous. The old woman Elizabeth must have been growing senile. Why else would she have called this young woman the mother of her Lord? And the young girl? She was nothing but prideful and presumptuous to claim that all generations would call her blessed. Such talk could easily have been dismissed as idle chatter.

Some might claim the same thing about those blessed by God who are in our own midst. There are certainly many categories of people that we could describe as being blessed: those who speak out to defend the poor and oppressed, those who cry out against the evils of abortion, capital punishment, or euthanasia, those who work to create a peaceful and just society. But let us stay with that group of people who are highlighted today: pregnant women.

Do not many in society, including many believers, look askance at women who cut short their budding careers to become a mother? Do not many of us astounded at a woman who is expecting her sixth child? And don't some of us shake our heads at single mothers in poverty or unwed teenagers still in high school who choose to bear their children instead of choosing an abortion? All of these women, no matter what poor choices made by them or by the men in their lives, become blessed when a child begins to grow in their wombs.

Yes, many believers fail to see these women as blessed. But it is not because of a lack of God-given ability to do so. All followers of Christ, by virtue of their baptism, have themselves been blessed like Mary and Elizabeth and so are able to see such blessings in others, even those who others might call accursed. If we then fail to recognize and proclaim such blessings, it is our fault alone.

Still, let us remember: God has given us eyes to see these blessed people and tongues to sing of the wonderful work he has done in them. We ourselves, too, have been blessed. So let us speak of these blessings to each other and to a world that refuses to see others as wee do. Then we will be able to take pride in hearing others say scornfully (or pridefully) about us, "It takes one to know one."

(For a different perspective on today's Gospel, go read what Peter Nixon has to say at his blog, Sursum Corda)

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Mail Bag

Regarding my commentary (see below) on the defense of Archbishop Weakland by Dan Carpenter of the Indianapolis Star, a reader suggests I look at it from a different angle:

"You might take a different tack and ask why so few newspapers are coming to Weakland's defense. He has been the toast of the town for so many years. He has had plenty of congratulations from the press for his politics and his efforts to capsize the church from within using such means as Call to Action.

But then, it turns out the man pays hush money because he doesn't want people to know who he really is. The press may be his friend, but this is a fillet mignoin of front page copy and Weakland's considerable popularity with the press won't rescue him from the press butcher shop -- except, it appears, with Dan Carpenter.

Think of Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal. Even when they're your friends, you can't expect the press to stand by you when you've done something that sells papers. Even more than they want their political ends met, the press wants to be read.

Interesting take on print media. Could the same be said about electronic media in general, or, God forbid, Catholic blogs in particular? I certainly hope not.


Today's Musical Recommendation

Job--A Masque for Dancing
by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

I thought that this selection was appropriate since during this time the Book of Job is being offered as the extended scriptural reading in the Office of Readings. Although himself an agnostic, believers around the English-speaking world are indebted to Vaughan Williams for the great amount of work he did in collecting and composing English hymnody. However, the spiritual life did not just inspire his work in this area, but in strictly classical composing as well.

The ballet Job--A Masque for Dancing, which was written from 1927-30 and premiered on stage in 1931, shows the powerful influence that both faith and English culture had on Vaughan Williams. For it was not only inspired by the Old Testament Book of Job, but also by William Blake's watercolor illustrations of the book and the older English musical and dance form known as the 'masque.'

Job has been performed both as a theatre piece and as a concert piece, showing that the music alone has a relevance and a meaning that appeals to listeners. It moves back and forth from sections of great power and volume, using a full modern orchestra along with saxophones, organ, and an expanded percussion section, to other sections that are intensely quiet and reflective. This, I believe, reflects how Job is "a drama of heaven and hell" (Richard Capell) which is worked out both in the interior life of one suffering man but also on a global scale where Satan is said in the Old Testament book to have been 'going to and fro on the Earth.'

For more information on Ralph Vaughan Williams, go to the page dedicated to him at


Gregory the Great tells us something we might not want to hear: lets love each other

In today's Office of Readings, we are offered a reading from Pope St. Gregory the Great's Moral Reflections on Job. There the great 6th century pope tells us in the 21st something we might not want to hear: the radical nature of God's law of love:

How must we interpret this law of God?...Paul gives a good summary of its various aspects: "Love is patient", he says, "and kind; it is never jealous or conceited; its conduct is blameless; it is not ambitious, not selfish, not quick to take offense; it harbors no evil thoughts, does not gloat over other people's sins, but is gladdened by an upright life."

The man ruled by this love shows his patience by bearing wrongs with equanimity; his kindness by generously repaying evil for good. Jealousy is foreign to him. It is impossible to envy worldly success when he has no worldly desires. He is not conceited The prizes he covets lie within; outward blessings do not elate him. His conduct is blameless, for he cannot do wrong in devoting himself entirely to love of God and neighbor.

He is not ambitious. The welfare of his own soul is what he cares about. Apart from that he seeks nothing. He is not selfish. Unable to keep anything he has in this world, he is as indifferent to it as if it were another's. Indeed, in his eyes nothing is his own but what wil be so always. He is not quick to take offense. Even under provocation, thought of revenge never crosses his mind. The reward he seeks hereafter will be greater in proportion to his endurance.

He harbors no evil thoughts. Hatred is utterly rooted out of a heart whose only love is goodness. Thoughts that defile a man can find no entry. He does not gloat over other people's sins. No; an enemy's fal affords him no delight, for loving all men, he longs for their salvation. On the other hand, "
he is gladdened by an upright life.." Since he loves others as himself, he takes as much pleasure in whatever good he sees in them as if the progress were his own...

Many of us who work in the Church roll our eyes when we hear Paul's praising of love in 1 Cor 13. It is used so often at overblown weddings and found on so many greeting cards that we think that it is nothing but a cliche. However, could an unconscious motivation behind our disdain be the difficulty of Paul's teaching? Certainly that difficulty is made even more clear by Gregory's words here.

However, just because this teaching is extraordinarily challenging does not mean that we can just forget about it. True, none of us could overnight become living examples of Gregory's words by sheer force of will. Indeed, the only way that we can live God's law of love is to recognize our own sinfulness, ask God for his grace, and, when it will surely come, cooperate with it to the best of our abilities.

Do his words mean that we are not to criticize those among us who have gravely sinned and betrayed our trust? I don't think so. However, I think that Gregory is warning us that we should be careful not to delightfully gloat when a Church leader whom we do not like is found to be guilty of some crime or grave sin. While we might rightfully discuss the sins that plague our Church today, let us, at the same time, give due attention to and show that we can take delight in the upright lives lived by so many of our faithful.


Starting today, this blog will adhere to the 'Welborn Protocol'

I had once known it as the 'Andrew Sullivan Rule.' Now it appears that Mark Shea has (aptly) renamed it the 'Welborn Protocol.' At any rate, it is the principle that all correspondence sent to me is blogable unless you specifically request otherwise. And starting today I will be adhering to it.


Longing for Spiritual Milk:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Thursday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

1 Pt 2:2-5, 9-12
Ps 100:2, 3, 4, 5
Mk 10:46-52

Cindy and I were worried. Or, rather, I was more worried than she was. You see, about five days after our son Michael as born, a visiting nurse weighed him in at 6 lbs 1 oz. He had been born at 6 lbs 13 oz. and so had lost more than 10% of his birth weight. As a result we had to take him in to the doctor's office for more weighings. We had struggled to get him to nurse well. He was certainly longing for Cindy's milk, but was not sure how to get to it. And when he couldn't get to it quickly, he would get frustrated and mad, making it even more difficult for him to nurse.

Like our little son Michael, I know that I and many other believers long for the pure spiritual milk. We want to grow into salvation. But when we don't experience that milk flowing within us, we can get mad and frustrated. This clouds our minds and souls, making it harder for us to discern the movement of the Spirit in our lives.

When our life of prayer seems as dry as a stone, that is the time to take a risk and trust in Peter's words: "like living stones,
let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
" Perhaps God allowed the people chosen by Christ to be "no people" and to receive no mercy for so long in order that when they did indeed become God's people and receive his mercy, his greatness would be revealed all the more clearly. Perhaps God allowed us experience a frustrating dryness in prayer in order to help us experience in a new freshness his loving grace in our lives.

Such a turnabout happened in the life of Bartimaeus. He was surely seen by his society as one acursed by God. His blindness would have been seen as a punishment for some wrong. People would have not thought twice about treating poorly and with no respect. Even when Jesus was walking past and he was crying out to him, many of the people following Jesus told him sharply to be quiet.

But, having no standing in society, Bartimaeus had nothing to lose. So he continued to cry out to our Lord. And when he heard that Jesus had called him, he leaped to his feet and ran to him. He was both heedless of any possible dangers from the crowd that had tried to silence him and as eager for the spiritual milk that would bring him healing as newborns are for their mother's milk.

Even in the midst our own times of dryness in our spiritual life, let us not lose hope of God working effectively in our lives. Let us continue to "long for [the] pure spiritual milk" which has promised to give us. Let us imitate my son Michael. For although he continues to struggle to find his mother's milk and gets mad and frustrated, he still never gives up. He always longs and cries out for more.

And just as his cries are answered and he starts to feed more easily in the midst of his struggles, so also will we know, in the midst of our trials, the grace of God flowing into our lives. And, like Michael who is now growing like a good baby should, we too, nourished with the pure spiritual milk that God provides, will grow into salvation.

(For a different perspective on today's Gospel, go read what Peter Nixon has to say at his blog, Sursum Corda)

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

The Indianapolis Star running to the defense of Weakland

Dan Carpenter, an op-ed writer for the Indianapolis Star had this column published today in which he mourns the loss of Archbishop Weakland and runs to defend his legacy. Why this Indianapolis newspaper would see a need to defend the former archbishop of Milwaukee is beyond me. I cannot imagine a large portion, or even a significant minority, of the Star's readership talking about this retired bishop around their water coolers.

For my own part, I am neither rejoice to see Archbishop Weakland go nor do I mourn his loss. Without necessarily questioning the fundamental content of his teaching (he is still, after all, a bishop), I did not always agree with the ways that he would emphasize some aspects of the Church's teachings and largely ignore others.

But, when I read Mr. Carpenter's portrait of the retired archbishop, I do not, in large part, see the man that I have followed off and on over the years. He describes him as "...a prince of a priest, a longtime leader of the American Catholic Church's beleaguered forces of compassion, inclusion and peacemaking. His life is a cathedral built on humility."

Humility? Any Benedictine, and Archbishop Weakland is one, would know that authentic humility requires one to embrace the whole truth about oneself and the truth about one's relationship with God. He may have done this personally. But the fact that he spent $450,000 that he did not earn--money ultimately donated by the faithful of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee--to hide a truth about himself leads me to believe that this truth about himself was indeed not wholly embraced.

And the fact that he worked so hard in himself to keep this covered up leads me to believe that, at least implicitly and subconsciously, he did not place his trust in God to protect the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from the malestrom of criticism which would have come upon it had he not made the settlement. This is surely a sign of the pride that was in him. Where humility is lacking, pride takes its place. And the fact that this storm of criticism emerged despite all of his efforts simply shows, in true humility, that our own efforts to protect ourselves, to protect those under our care, will always fall short without the aid of God.

There are many other aspects of Mr. Carpenter's views that could be analysed. And I may do so later. However, I would like to read what you have to say. Send me an e-mail about your views.


Sowing God's Imperishable Seed in Questionable Ground:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Wednesday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

1 Pt 1:18-25
Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
Mk 10:32-45

The story of the Church as it has moved forward from age to age is filled with many tales of the "futile conduct handed on by our ancestors." Many in the past, as well as many in our own day, have sought "perishable things like silver and gold" while serving as leaders of the Church. They gloried in this as they blossomed quickly like the "flower of the field", heedless of the fact that their bloom would fade just as quickly. Many even, like James and John, beseeched the Lord in prayer, hoping that he would increase their power.

Despite the foibles and failings of so many of the faithful across the centuries, the Church has still endured. This history of the Church, then, lends credence to Peter's words: "You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed,
through the living and abiding word of God...
" No matter how many times we, among the faithful, have by our own sinfulness heaped shame and disgrace upon the body of Christ, the Church has continued to live and endure.

The imperishable seed of the Word of God continues to be planted in all of our hearts by the great Sower. In the past few days I've seen farmers scrambling quickly to prepare their fields for this season's seed. They do this important work of preparation so that the soil might produce the greatest yield possible. This is important to them because the seed is so expensive. Jesus, too, plants a very precious seed but, as we see in the parable of the sower, he is heedless of the condition of the soil where he sows it.

And that is good, for we, in our limited judgment, would often fail in our assessment of the quality of a person's 'soil.' James and John may have appeared to have been selfish and power hungry when they asked Jesus to sit at his right and left when he entered into his glory. And yet they would eventually show themselves to be true apostles. Through their sharing in Jesus' cup and baptism, they proclaimed the Gospel, that "Word of the Lord" which "remains forever."

Jesus planted his imperishable seed in the questionable soil of James and John. And he continues to plant in all of us who are quite marginal ground: in our fallible leaders and in us who are also prone to sin. All of us, like James and John, have in our own ways been selfish and desirous of power. But this does not mean that our soil cannot, in the end, produce a good yield.

Remember, all of us have been purchased with the "precious Blood of Christ." And the "imperishable seed" of "the living and abiding word of God", which is Jesus' Good News, has been planted in all of our hearts. Because of this our Church has endured through the crises of 20 centuries. So with these great goods there to support us, who knows what blessings tomorrow will bring!

(For a different perspective on today's Gospel, go read what Peter Nixon has to say at his blog, Sursum Corda)


Oops! Yesterday's mistake

Well, chalk it up to either the effects of sleep deprivation or the fact that the work week started on Tuesday. But, in any case, as many of you may have already noticed, yesterday's reflection on the Mass readings was actually written on Monday's readings. Never fear, though, I double checked what I wrote on for today.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Amy tells us something we might not want to hear: take a look in the mirror

Amy Welborn has a post that many of readers and most all bloggers should read. It is entitled "Are we hypocrites?" and asks us all to pause in the midst of our near constant criticism of the leaders of the Church to consider the sinfulness that is present in each one of us and to consider the priority of prayer over criticism.

Her views are stated clearly and in a way that challenges us all. I've encouraged readers and other bloggers to look in the mirror at the beams that are gouging our own eyes. I've also encouraged us all to turn to prayer before we turn to our keyboards. However, I've usually done this cajoling in my reflections on the daily Mass readings. Maybe they've been overlooked as a result.

Anyway, I think that my views on this subject are the clearest in my reflection on the daily Mass readings from last Saturday.

Read what Amy has to say, read what I had to say last Saturday (as well as other in other reflections), and let me know what you think.


Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Monday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Today's Readings

1 Pt 1:3-9
Ps 111:1-2, 5-6, 9 and 10c
Mk 10:17-27

In today's first reading, Peter strives to assure his readers, including us, that in the midst of our trials we are being safeguarded by God through faith. He praises God for giving us "through the resurrection of Jesus...a new birth to a living hope". And he commends us, who have not seen Jesus, for still having a love for him.

It is faith, hope, and love, then, that allows us to conclude, along with Peter, that as "we suffer our various trials", "there is cause for rejoicing here" (as it is stated in an earlier translation).

Although many of us have been born and raised to be disciples of Jesus, rejoicing at the experiencing of trials still strikes us as difficult to accept and live out concretely in our daily lives. In order to avoid trials, we often try to take comfort in things that we can see, feel, smell, hear, or taste. And yet all of these things, as valuable as society says they are, are less dependable in trials than the faith given to us by God which is "more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire..."

The faith, hope, and love offered to us by God can appeal, at least initially, to our selfish, fear-filled motivations which lead us to run away from trials and into the passing comforts of riches, and sensory stimulations. Faith, hope, and love will help us endure and thrive in the midst of trials in a way that these passing comforts could never do.

Yet putting our trust in these theological virtues is a risk. While we live on earth, we are often caught in the trap of our senses. We tend first to believe the things that come to us through our eyes, ears, touch, etc. Trusting in something that is more ephemeral like faith, hope, and love seems more risky to us at first.

It surely did to the rich young man in the Gospel. This man, in many ways, is like many of us. Although he had "many possessions", he had not focused his life soley on these things. He strove from his youth to do God's will in following the Law. And he recognized Jesus as good, even if he might not have known the full meaning of his words. Many of us, as I noted above, were born and raised to be disciples of our Lord. And we surely have a great love for this Lord whom we have not seen. And we recognize that that he is the greatest good that we can know or experience.

And yet aren't all us, to varying degrees, still trapped in the prison of our senses? Do we still hesitate to give away the many possessions (no matter what they are) in which we seek in futility to find the comfort that we can ultimately only find by following Jesus, the Jesus who always seems to be setting out on a journey?

Let us set out with Christ on this journey, leaving behind all those possessions which would slow us down and taking with us only the faith, hope, and love that God offers us as food for the journey.

(For a different perspective on today's Gospel, go read what Peter Nixon has to say at his blog, Sursum Corda)


I'll be blogging this afternoon

With an out of town in guest overnight and the lawn to be mowed this morning, my regular morning blogging will have to wait until this afternoon.

Monday, May 27, 2002

A Catholic Perspective on Memorial Day

Memorial Day in America is a noble holiday. It is good for us who are living to pay tribute to and remember with true honor those who have died, serving our country in the armed forces and in law enforcement, fire departments, and other rescue organizations. It is good for us to spend time remembering the fond memories of our friends and relatives who have passed away. Go to a cemetery today and you will probably see more people than usual, visiting graves, laying flowers by tombstones. Memorial Day, then, would seem to be all about us in the present remembering those who died in the past.

We who are Catholic, however, can have a different perspective on this holiday. In a very real sense we celebrate Memorial Day every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. And there we in the present not only remember those who died in the past, in a real sense, those who died in the past are remembered as continuing to be a part of us still in the present. This is experienced, of course, most especially in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament (more about this in the coming days as we approach Corpus Christi Sunday).

But we Catholics celebrate the heroes and heroines of the past (whom we call saints) just as many Americans honor those who gave their lives for this country or those who struggled to support their family in the past. We Catholics believe that the saints are not just examples which are to encourage in our life of faith today. This is largely how we look upon our veterans and others who served our country and our families in the past. Although this is an important aspect of what Catholics believe about the saints, they also hold that they are a real part of the Church that endures this day, they are a part of the communion of saints into which we are being drawn by the grace of God and by our daily struggles to live according to his will.

Now by offering this Catholic perspective on America's Memorial Day, I am, by no means advocating that we 'baptize' this holiday. I am one who looks askance when others try to make arguments that our country's founding fathers were thoroughgoing God-fearing men who were trying to create a Christian nation. What I am advocating is that this holiday can have added meaning and significance for many people if they were able to view from a Catholic perspective.

Were this to happen, this holiday many might value this holiday more than they do now. The emphasis might be placed much more on memorializing those who have passed on and much less on the summer blockbuster movies about to be released, or much less on a 500 mile race of 33 cars going around a 2 1/2 mile oval 200 times.


The Indy 500

Well, I wouldn't be a true Hoosier if I didn't say something about the Indy 500 during the Memorial Day holiday. Personally, it was an odd experience having the opportunity to watch the race on TV. Having grown up near Indianapolis, I was used to having to listen to the race on radio, since ABC blacks it out on the local station. However, living near Columbus, I'm now able to tune in fairly well an ABC station in Louisville. And so I was able to watch the second half of the race after I had gotten home from the parish.

The race was a good one, with lots of good drivers competing fiercely to get up to the front or to stay up front. And although there were, by comparison, very few crashes this year, leading to more simply good racing, two of the crashes that occurred involved two drivers that were leading at the time. And to make it more intriguing, they were single car accidents, not happening in the midst of tough racing. One leader hit a patch of oil and slid into the wall. And another seems to have had something break in his suspension.

The ending, however, showed me why many people now prefer NASCAR to CART or the IRL. With two laps to go, there was a crash of two cars in the back of the field right as, at the front, second place Paul Tracy was trying to pass the leader Helio Castroneves. At the time, race officials determined that the pass occurred after the yellow flag was waved (no passing is allowed under a yellow flag) and Castroneves received the checkered flag while cruising slowly down the front straight.

According to NASCAR devotees (of which I am not one, although I enjoy watching those races), they should have stopped the race when the crash happened and allowed the last two laps the be completed under the green flag. A real race, to them, doesn't end under a yellow flag (although this is a recent change to the NASCAR rules), but with two cars tradin' sheet metal down the front straight, racin' for that checkered flag.

Anyway, it was a fun race. It was an exciting and very competitive race. And, hopefully, it will be the beginning of a trend for the Brickyard. Hopefully the races will get better and the excitement of years past will return.


Reflection on Trinity Sunday, just passed

The Readings for Trinity Sunday

Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9
Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
2 Cor 13:11-13
Jn 3:16-18

In probably all cultures, in all times and places, there have always been and will always be groups of people who, urged by great visions and high ideals, try to establish the perfect human community. Utopias we call them, thanks to St. Thomas More. One of them was established in my home state of Indiana.

In 1814, a millennialist Christian group led by George Rapp went to the wilds of southern Indiana to await in perfect harmony the second coming of our Lord. But after becoming quite prosperous in their business and, after finding that Jesus hadn't yet returned (at least not in any way they could discern), these Rappites their home on the Ohio river to return to a home, closer to the society who could buy their goods, yet still separated from it as well. In 1824, a group of idealistic and seemingly non-sectarian intellectuals, led by Robert Owen bought the land and tried establish a utopia that they had envisioned. Their vision, however, faded away amid dissension and conflict just a short four years later. The town of New Harmony remained, but its inhabitants made no utopian claims for themselves

Maybe George Rapp and his followers as well as Robert Owen and his should have read a little bit of St. Thomas More before launching out into the west and pinning their high hopes on their ideals and a small patch of land in Indiana. For while St. Thomas wrote about a work called Utopia, the work was a satire and the word itself literally means 'no place.'

Here on earth we humans may yearn for the perfect community. But left to our own designs, we will never find it, we will never establish it by our own power. In fact, such attempts not only lead to simple failures like New Harmony, but also to tragic disasters such those at David Koresh’s Mt. Carmel, or (Hoosier native) Jim Jones’ Jonestown. Our yearning, then, might seem to be a hopeless dream, something to be forgotten as soon as it comes into our heads. But might it be instead a yearning for the Kingdom of God, that truly perfect community of Father, Son, and Spirit in which all who are created in God’s image are invited to share?

And, my friends, this Kingdom is not far away but it right around the corner. It is truly at hand, as Jesus proclaimed 2000 years ago, and today in our hearts. It is simply amazing how close it is to us when, at the same time, our own efforts to reach it fall so short. Today’s first and second readings show the closeness of both fulfillment and failure.

On the surface, no two communities could seem less deserving of this divine life than the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai or the Church in Corinth. Both communities show themselves to be singularly stiff-necked toward God and divisive toward each other. And yet the perfect unity in diversity was close at hand for them, just as it is for us today.

While the Israelites, the Corinthians, and we individuals who make up the Church today deserve condemnation, the Father sent his Son into the world, not to condemn us, but to save us. And so at the point when we might give in to despair of ever experiencing the utopias for which we dream, the Son of God rushes forward to help us on our way, to point us in the right direction, and to give strength to our steps.

Let us, then, as true disciples of the Lord Jesus, follow him into a more full communion with his Father, in the peace and unity of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, May 25, 2002

Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jas 5:13-20
Ps 141:1-2, 3 and 8
Mk 10:13-16

James' message in today's first reading should be abundantly clear: in any and all circumstances of life we should pray. This is true if one is suffering, if one is in good spirits, if one is sick, if one has committed sins. Prayer links all of these varied situations because it is a sign of our recognition of how God may be present to us at all times, working effectively in our lives.

A prayer in a time of suffering may lead to relief or to endurance. A prayer when one is in good spirits is a recognition that God has blessed us. A prayer in time of sickness calls upon the healing touch of God. And a prayer in a time of sinfulness begs God for mercy and forgiveness.

According to James, such prayer is good, not only for the person for whom the prayer is being addressed, but also for the person doing the praying. Such a statement is not only an encouragement for all of us to trust in the power of prayer and to set about praying. No, it is also a friendly reminder that all of us need the mercy and forgiveness of God:

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Many of us at St. Blog's have encouraged Catholics and other believers to pray during this time of crisis in the Church. This is good and we should do this. We have also spent a good amount of time pointing out how some of our leaders have strayed from the truth, most surely in their behavior, but also at times in their teachings.

Is such writing directed to bring these people back from the errors of their ways? If it is not then the promise of James' words do not apply to us. Even if we sincerely do want to help these folks, but the way in which we communicate alienates these people, then we will again not experience the fulfillment of James' words. According to this apostle, this will only happen if, we are successful in our attempts to bring these folks back. If the forcefulness and the anger of our words, no matter how true they are, discourage from turning back those who might be in error, then we are doing nothing to save our own souls from death, to cover a mutitude of our own sins. In the midst of our righteous anger, let us never forget our own sinfulness.

Now I realize that none of us can control the consciences of another. Our words, even if they were spoken in pure charity, might not convince a sinner to return to God. Still, when we speak or write words which show the sinfulness of others and are still used to bring them back, we should first utter the prayer that a priest told me that he prays often, "Lord, let me, by my own words or actions, not keep these people from you." If we do this, then I believe that, even if our attempts to bring sinners back are unsuccessful, God will hear us and will save our souls from death and will cover the multitude of our own sins.

This, of course, is a reminder, that even if we saved a nation of sinners, that this alone would not save our souls from death. It is only through God's grace, combined with our cooperation with it, that will do this. This, then, brings me back to prayer. When many of feel outraged by revelation after revelation of scandal and abuse, let us turn first to prayer, both for those who have betrayed our trust and for ourselves. Let us turn first to prayer, and then only secondly to our keyboards.

My own prayer today is inspired by the day's Gospel reading. Many parents may feel like the apostles and want to keep their children away from those who, in our Church, most especially represent Christ to us: our bishops and our priests. My prayer, then, is that, through the grace of God, those leaders who have, through their sins and crimes, led such parents to feel this way, may themselves go to prayer and find the strength to cooperate with God's grace in order to bring healing to our Church.

May God, in mercy, restore the trust in those parents so that they may hear and generously respond to Jesus' words: "Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them."


"Mixed-Marriages" and The Situation

In some recent experiences that I've had recently in the parish where I serve, I've heard some stories about the challenges of being a Catholic right now in a "mixed-marriage" (where one spouse is Catholic and the other is not). What I've heard is that the misunderstandings that many in the broader society have about the Church and which seem to be accentuated by The Situation, are brought very much closer to these Catholics through the life with their spouses and their spouses' families.

This 'close experience' of such misunderstandings, usually accompanied by varying degrees of hostility, resentment, or disdain for various beliefs or practices of the Church, can be painful for these Catholics. But I suspect that it might also have been an opportunity for other Catholics in mixed-marriages to help their spouses' and in-laws to become more well-informed about the truth of the Church.

Catholics living in mixed-marriages is a commonplace in our country where there is so much religious diversity. I would be interested to hear from listeners who themselves are in a "mixed-marriage." Have you and your spouse or your in-laws had any discussions regarding the current scandal in the Church? And if so, do you find that you have common ground with them in your feelings or opinions on the matter? Or are there some differences? Do these differences cause some hard feelings? Have the discussions been opportunities for you and your spouse and in-laws to learn more about each others' faith traditions?

I would be very interested to hear from you regarding these questions.

Friday, May 24, 2002

Today's Music Recommendation

La Mer by Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

This choice was inspired by the happy memories brought to my mind when I read over at Catholic and Enjoying It that Mark Shea and his family were spending the weekend in the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound off the coast of Washington state. I myself had the opportunity to spend some time in that blessed corner of the world and I must say that I was completely charmed by it.

And so when I, as a midwestern boy who loves classical music, think of the beautiful times that I have spent by the sea, I invariably turn to Debussy's La Mer, 'The Sea.' This is very appropriate, however, since Debussy himself began his composition of this piece in Burgundy in the heart of central France, far away from any ocean. He completed it in 1905.

It is a work of Debussy's mature orchestral writing. His use of the many and varied tone colors of the instruments of the orchestra, along with his usual lush impressionist harmonies, as well as his free flowing form all combine to paint a striking portrait in sound of the power, mystery, and majesty of the sea. But perhaps what is revealed here is not so much the sea itself, but the effect it has upon humans who are truly open its intense splendor.

Such an experience surely can produce intriguing ambiguities in these people. For on the one hand they will have the humbling knowledge of their smallness in the fullness of God's creation. But on the other hand, they will also can come close to that high human dignity through which God allows us to comtemplate the glimpses of his greatness which surround us.

In terms of recordings of this piece, I myself own a CD of a performance of it by the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, led by conductor Charles Dutoit, dating from 1989, on the London label (catalogue no. 430 240-2). I'm sure there are several other great recordings out there. As a general rule of thumb, I would tend to look at recordings by French orchestras or, at the least, French conductors.

If you want more information on this piece or on Claude Debussy, go to the webpage dedicated to him at


A New Feature to Nota Bene Appearing Next Tuesday

Starting next Tuesday there will be a new regular feature on Nota Bene. As many of you readers are already aware, I regularly offer some thoughts on the Mass readings for the day. Well, I'm not the only blogger who is doing this. Peter Nixon over at Sursum Corda does the same.

Therefore, in order to facilitate your readers getting a different perspective on the day's Mass readings, I will offer you a link to Sursum Corda at the end of my reflection. Between the little reflection that I have to offer, the one written by Peter, and the Sunday homily of Fr. Shawn O'Neal (who is finishing up his blogging run over at Onealism) which will appear here, this little blog will be turning into scriptural reflection central.

Please note: Peter is writing on the West Coast and I'm writing in the Midwest, and so therefore my reflection will, in most cases, appear before his. Therefore I will only be providing a general link to his blog and not to his reflection in particular. Basically, if you're in the United States and you're east of the Rockies and you read my reflection kind of early on, then you'll have to wait a while to read Peter's reflecton.

And, by the way, Peter will have a link to my blog at the bottom of his daily reflections.


John Henry Newman on the Holy Trinity

A few days ago, in celebration of Pentecost, I posted a reflection on what Cardinal Newman had to say in one of his Parochial and Plain Sermons (from volume two) regarding the Holy Spirit. Today, in anticipation of Trinity Sunday, I offer a reflection on the thoughts of this same Cardinal upon this central doctrine of our faith in his sermon entitled "The Mystery of the Holy Trinity", again, taken from volume 6 of the Parochial and Plain Sermons.

Newman's thoughts in this sermon are themselves a small sign of the depth of the mystery of the Trinity. For, at one and the same time, he both recognizes the sheer inability of human language to fully explicate this mystery and yet also refers to dozens of scriptural passages and examples in nature which help us gain an understanding of this three-fold nature of God.

The sermon itself is a commentary on Jesus' mandate to his apostles at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Newman spends some time at the start reflecting upon the fact that Jesus choose these three titles instead of others. While he remarks that they are impossible to understand if one has not yet been introduced and accepted the mystery of the Trinity, he also tries to show how Jesus' language is made abundantly simple and clear once this has happened.

His discussion in this first part of his sermon might have some applicability to the once hot, now seemingly lukewarm debate on how to name the Trinity, with its focus on gender sensitivity. Now by no means do I think that Newman had such questions in mind here, although he does make reference to "the impugners of this doctrine who try to argue that the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not to be understood in any literal sense.

The large majority of the sermon has Newman discussing first how God is One and then showing how God is also Three. Most of this simply reflects basic Catholic teaching on the Trinity and so I will not belabor it here. Where Newman is most touching and yet also most insightful is when he speaks about our human attempts to understand the Trinity in the first place. In speaking of defending the doctrine of the Trinity on the celebration of Trinity Sunday, Newman has this to say:

...I am not engaged in defending the Creed of St. Athanasius, but am stating its meaning; and, My Brethren, that you may well bear once in the year to be reminded that Christianity gives exercise to the whole mind of man, to our highest and most subtle reason, as well as to our feelings, affections, imagination, and conscience. If we find it tries us, and is too severe, whether for our reason, or our imagination, or our feelings, let us bow down in silent adoration, and submit to it each of our faculties by turn, not complain of its sublimity or its range.

He then goes on to argue that all human can grasp some of the aspects of God because we, in some small way, share them, especially in our minds:

...though every thing concerning the Supreme Being is mysterious, yet we do not commonly feel any mystery here, because we see a sort of parallel to these attributes in what we call the qualities, properties, powers, and habits of our own minds. We are endowed by nature and through grace with a portion of certain excellences which belong in perfection to the Most High,—as benevolence, wisdom, justice, truth, and holiness; and though we do not know how these attributes exist in God, nay how they exist in ourselves, yet since we are ourselves used to them, and cannot deny their existence, we are not startled when we are told they exist in God.

This exploration of the ways we can come to know God seem to look back to what Augustine had to say in De Trinitate and yet also look forward to some of the theologians who took the 'anthropological turn' (e.g., Rahner, among others) in the century just past. However, Newman then quickly returns to the fact that there are other aspects of God which are beyond all human experience and so are shrouded in mystery for us.

Later he on comments on this dark side of God in a way that shows humble resignation in a man who yearned to know more and more of God:

We understand things unknown, by the pattern of things seen and experienced; we are able to contemplate Almighty God so far as earthly things are partial reflexions of Him; when they fail us, we are lost. And as of course nothing earthly or created is His exact and perfect image, we have at best but dim glimpses of His infinite glory; and if Scripture reveal to us aught concerning Him, we must be content to take it on faith, without comprehending how it is, or having any clear understanding of our own words.

This very much foreshadows what he would later have inscribed on his tombstone several decades later: "Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem", "Out of shadows and images into truth."

This was a man who, it is clear, approached the mysteries of the faith, indeed, the mystery of the faith which is the Holy Trinity, not only with vigorous strength of a student and teacher, but also with the passionate love of a believer. Would that all of us be given a double portion of the spirit of Cardinal Newman on this Trinity Sunday.


Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II

Today's Readings

Jas 5:9-12
Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8-9, 11-12
Mk 10:1-12

As with the readings from two days ago, I am reminded of the Rule of St. Benedict by today's first reading. James discourages his readers from grumbling so that they might avoid judgment. Likewise, at several points in the Rule, Benedict showed his opposition to monks who are in the habit of murmuring.

The sixth century saint felt that grumbling was a sign of pride-filled presumption in a monk. He grumbled because he felt that he was suffering unnecessarily. He would have felt that he himself knew what was best for him instead of the person who was causing him to suffer. And so in the midst of his smug illusion, placing himself in the position of that same who judge who, in the words of James, is 'standing before the gates', he grumbles.

Instead of grumbling, both James and Benedict encouraged the patient endurance of suffering seen in the prophets and in Jesus. These men, and Jesus especially, were filled with the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of God. Therefore, they could have easily and rightfully have claimed possession of that same knowledge of the good for themselves that the proud only have in their illusions. And yet in their quiet, patient endurance of suffering (which was, in the end, the best for them) they wanted to give a sign to the people of their respective generations of the way in which all humans are called to live out their lives.

These signs of humility and patient endurance are important for all married couples to make a part of themselves. In today's Gospel, Jesus speaks against divorce and for the original plan of God whereby husband and wife, made one by grace, cannot be separated in truth. In our broken world, it will only be through humility and patient endurance, given to them through sacramental grace, that spouses will be able to live out Jesus' vision of marriage.

Cases where the physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual health of one spouse in endangered by another put aside, I believe that many other divorces are a result of the grumbling presumption that James condemned. Over time, a spouse will become convinced that he or she has all the right answers for his or her life. That person will then become resentfully self-assured that it is the ignorance or malice of their partner that is keeping him or her from living out these answers. Divorce, in such a case, is the natural outcome of such a prideful confidence in one's own judgment that one feels no need to consult with another.

When married couples in the Church, through prayer and cooperation with sacramental grace, avoid such presumption and, instead, defer to one another and consult one another about themselves and about the difficult decisions to be made in a household, they are providing a real ministry for all of the faithful. Through the living out of their sacrament, they become a source of grace for them and help them effect in their lives the humility that so characterizs the life of Christ.

Let us keep in mind, then, in this time where some of those whom we recognize as formal ministers within the Church have betrayed the grace of their ordination, that husbands and wives also provide a vital ministry for all believers. As we pray for our bishops, priests, and deacons, let us also pray for our married couples who are patiently enduring the scandal of pervasive divorce which surrounds them.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Farewell, my friend

Fr. Shawn O'Neal is a friend of mine; no, he is, outside my wife, my best friend. But I was not saddened when he let know that he would be discontinuing his blog, Onealism. Why I didn't I feel that emotion for my friend? Because he is just that--a friend.

Over the course of the seven years that I have been priveleged to come to know him, Fr. Shawn and I have shared many great blessings together, not the least of which was when he served as my best man at my wedding last June 9. You see, he has been and will continue to be a great friend for me outside of blogdom. It is only you unfortunate souls who have only come to know him through his blog who should be saddened by this event.

At any rate, he still wants to be able to share with all of you his thoughts when 'breaks open the Word' in the homilies that he delivers in the parishes where he serves. So, starting next week, his homilies will be posted here, on this blog. And how appropriate it will be, for what Fr. Shawn shares in his homilies is indeed a nota bene, a good word.


Only in Indiana

I love my homestate. And I love being a Hoosier (please, don't call anyone from Indiana an 'Indianian'). But sometimes I hear credible stories about some of my fellow Hoosiers that make just shake my head. Maybe some of the stereotypes are true.

Yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered a story was broadcast about how the town council of Kokomo (pop., approx. 40,000 ) have approved spending $100,000 to study some sort of sound that some claim pervades the town. Hardly any have heard it, but some 90 residents claim they have and argue that it has made them sick.

Having driven through Kokomo more times than I could count on the so-called US 31By-Pass on my way up to South Bend, I have my own theory. This By-Pass is only this in name because it had, at my last count, 19 stoplights in what I would estimate is approximately a five mile stretch. Maybe the cycles of the stoplights are creating some sort of low-level harmonics that is causing folks living near the By-Pass to become ill. I sure know from experience that it can make the drivers feel pretty bad.

Who knows, maybe its made by all those black helicopters from the tri-lateral commission flying around. And was it just a coincidence that this story broke right after the X Files went off the air? Hmmm....


Reflections on Trinity Sunday upcoming, but first...

This morning as I was driving through the town where I live, I went by a Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod). The sign in front gave a title to what I presumed would be the sermon for this coming Sunday. From the title given, it would appear (not surprisingly) that they, too, are celebrating Trinity Sunday.

However, the title was a bit disturbing when given some thought. What is the title in question? "The Trinity: Why It Matters." Such a title seems to imply that many to whom the sermon would be directed believe that the Trinity, in fact, does not matter. How far have so many Christians (Catholics included) gotten away from the most basic tenets of the faith that they would believe that Trinity has no important place in the living out of their baptismal vows?

And I mention baptism here quite deliberately. Why? Think about it. What, in its most basic form, are we asked to profess a belief in at our baptism? The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Through our baptism, we are invited to share in the very life of the Trinity. And that can happen, not at all in some abstract way, not just in some mystical way that is reserved for a precious few, but in ordinary, concrete ways that each of us can experience every day.

We may not experience the fullness of that life which will only be opened to us on the other side of the grave. But the glorious life of the Trinity is that into which we are drawn through our sharing in the death and resurrection of the Lord in the waters of baptism. All of our other beliefs--whether they deal with any one person of the Trinity, our redemption and salvation, our sacraments, our moral and prayer life--they all find their first and final basis in the life of the Trinity.

Yes, indeed, the Trinity does matter. It is only sad that we aren't more aware of that.


More on the interview with Bishop Raymond Boland

Yesterday I described and commented on an interview in the Kansas City Star with Raymond Boland, bishop of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The questions asked of Bishop Boland were quite wide-ranging and so I wanted to take a couple of different posts to react to many of the things that he had to say.

A few days ago, I made asked a question regarding the screening of seminarians in one of my posts. I wondered why so much attention was being given to the screening that takes place in seminaries when I felt that the most important screening happened at the diocesan level before a man ever began his priestly formation. I was concerned that pointing to seminaries might, in some way, be an attempt to deflect attention away from those diocesan screening processes that may have been inadequate in the past.

Bishop Boland was asked about the screening of seminarians and he did not seem to focus his attention on any one locus of the screening process:

I would say that in the '60s and '70s, there may have been bishops who were tempted to ordain people without too much screening. And at that time it was not uncommon to see seminarians who might be rejected at Seminary A go to Seminary B. Today that's impossible. Rome has jumped into that. You dare not take someone who has been turned down by a seminary. I think our screening today is as tough as it's ever been.

It does appear that Boland does place the ultimate responsibility for screening on the shoulders of the bishop himself. He is the one who chooses to ordain a man. He is the one who chooses to accept or reject a candidate who may have been "turned down" by another seminary.

Boland was also asked about other topics, controversial to some (priestly celibacy, the ordination of women, etc.), that have been raised by some in the wake of The Situation. Regarding mandatory celibacy, Boland first mentions the fact that there are close to 100 married priests in the Church, many of which were converts from the Anglican Church. But in speaking more broadly about mandatory celibacy, the bishop said this:

Celibacy came in, I think, because... the spirit of renunciation to free oneself for the work of God was looked upon as a higher goal at the time (early 12th century). As the Holy Father has said, it has served the church extremely well. Whether it will be changed in a wider sense than we have it right now, I don't know....

The insertion of the elipses in this statement make me interested to know what Boland said and what the reporter or editor felt was unnecessary to print. Did he speak about the broad historical development of celibacy and the powers that be at The Star didn't want to waste column space on it? Or is what was printed there reflective of the bishops teaching on mandatory celibacy? From this article alone we cannot know.

What, then, is printed in the article regarding the bishop's views on the ordination of women to the priesthood? In directly speaking about it, he had this to say:

Now, on the ordination of women as such, I think women have been granted privileges in the sense of being in jobs they never had before in the church -- and more and more, a bigger percentage, every year. Nevertheless, I feel that the actual ordination... if there's any movement there, it's going to be much slower.

Following this there was this dialogue between Bishop Boland and the interviewer (Bill Tammeus):

Tammeus: Well, the pope has said -- and (Cardinal Joseph) Ratzinger (a top Vatican official) has said the pope said it infallibly, almost, -- that --

Boland: Yeah, you used the word almost. Within the church, if you leave one crack in the door, you never know what the next pope or the next Ratzinger is going to do.

Tammeus: I don't think Ratzinger wants any cracks in that door.

Boland: No, he doesn't. But if you go back to the middle ages, there were other cracks that were not supposed to be there.

In this interview, Bishop Boland is nothing if not candid. But again, I raise the question that I did with what he said about mandatory celibacy: Do the things that he said that were printed in this article accurately reflect the bishop's teaching on the ordination of women and, more broadly, on the nature of the charism of papal infallibility?

One of my readers believes that this article does reflect accurately the bishop's teachings. As a result he was labelled a 'part of the problem.' I'm not sure if I feel comfortable making such a conclusion. Judging another person's orthodoxy in a definitive way is really something that only belongs to a bishop. We might have opinions about this but we should always be careful to couch them clearly as opinions.

In the end, I do not even have a clear opinion if this interview accurately reflects the bishop's teachings. Am I being scared in not coming down one way or the other? No, I'm just being prudent and being realistic about the limitations of the print media. Just as Pope John Paul would not use L'Ossavertore Romano to initially decree a teaching of the (not extraordinary, mind you--thats the ex cathedra kind) ordinary infallible magisterium (such as something from an encyclical that would expound upon a matter in the deposit of faith), so also I would suspect that a bishop of a local church like Bishop Boland would not use any newspaper, let alone a secular one, to put forth the full teaching of the universal Church on similar kinds of matters of faith and morals.

Still, I felt that Bishop Boland in this interview was striking in his candidness, not only about The Situation, but also about at least some aspects of the Church's teachings and practices.


Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Today's Readings

Jas 5:1-6
Ps 49:14-15ab, 15cd-16, 17-18, 19-20
Mk 9:41-50

It is surely a commonplace that the bearing of our own, personal crosses, as well as sharing those that belong to the entire Church, is a fundamental part of the Christian life. Unless we freely take up our crosses, we simply are not disciples of the Lord Jesus. But there is a less clear-cut corollary to this doctrine that may not be very clear in many of our consciences: just as we are called to pick up our own crosses, we are also sternly warned not to place a cross on the shoulders of others.

In these readings, the importance of the corollary seems to be as great as the primary teaching itself. This is seen when James inveighs so vigorously against the rich who steal from and even kill the poor. It is seen when Jesus condemns so roundly those who would lead astray a simple believer. Surely these teachings cannot be misunderstood. And just as surely they wouldn't have been taught in so forceful a language if they did not have a vital importance in the life of faith.

Now it would be quite easy for all of us to apply these readings directly to those abusive priests who have led astray so many young believers or to those mismanaging bishops who, seemingly insulated in their warm mansions from the cold lives of many of their brothers and sisters in faith. Each of us could surely find words as violent as those use by James to condemn such men.

But let us never forget to look at ourselves first when considering these teachings. This is, of course, no denial of the crosses unjustly placed on the shoulders of many innocent believers. What I am saying in this is that we are all sinners. The beam that is in our own eye is the same beam that we force others to carry on the road to their own Calvary.

Yes, let us not ignore the horrible sins of many within the Church. But let us also never ignore our own.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Today's Music Recommendation

Mass in G major by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)

For all of you first-time visitors (and hopefully not last-time visitors), here's another one of my regular features. I usually will focus on classical music. Why? Because that's what I like. And because it is good. It might not be your taste, but it still has value. Some of the pieces (as with today's) will be explicitly spiritual, or even Catholic. Some will not.

At any rate, the other day I recommended a piece by a 20th century French composer. Today I'm continuing in that vein by encouraging you to take a listen to Francis Poulenc's Mass in G major. Its a lovely a cappella work that, unlike most Masses written by classical composers, could arguably be sung in the midst of an actual Mass (I know, I may hear it from some of you folks who are sticklers for 'active participation'). But all of the movements, at least in the recording that I own (sung by the Robert Shaw Festival Singers, on Telarc, CD-80236), are under 5:00 minutes in length.

Poulenc's story is interesting. His composing career took off fairly quickly with him being identified with Les Six, an avant garde group of composers centered in Paris in the 1920s. But by the mid-1930s he was moved to place a greater value on his life of faith. This change in his life resulted in a number of beautiful religious choral works that he wrote during the rest of his life.

The Mass in G major dates from 1937 and was dedicated to the memory of Poulenc's deceased father. For being wholly a capella, it still has a great deal of vivacity and color to it, brought forward by the striking (but not strident) harmonies and vigorous rhythms. And yet it also is very meditative and at times, arguably, mystical. That all of this can be accomplished simply through massed human voices shows the divine artistic potential latent in we who were created in God's image.

At any rate, here is the page on Poulenc on the website Go there if you would like more information about him or his other works.


Sometimes I just can't win

As many of you readers know (but as some of you newcomers don't), my wife and I are the parents of our now three-week-old son, Michael Joseph. Lately we've been struggling with him getting his days and nights mixed up. That, of course, has led to a lot of sleep deprivation.

Well last night, God be praised, the little guy slept from 9:30pm until 5:15am! However, I STILL didn't get a great night's sleep. Why? Because I kept waking up wondering, "Is he ok? He should've woken before now." Sometimes, I just can't win.


Welcome newcomers

A hearty welcome to all of you folks who may have come to this blog via Amy Welborn's blog, In Between Naps. Its always good to get a plug from a blogger who, on one of her earlier posts, said how she was happy when she got 1000 hits by supper time.


A Bishop Speaks Candidly, at times...

Check out this interview with Raymond Boland, Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph which appeared in yesterday's edition of the Kansas City Star. He seems particularly candid in this article, much more so than many of his brother bishops.

In response to the Archdiocese of Boston's recent institution of a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual abusive priests in ministry, he said (after the reporter noted that his diocese had had such a policy for close to 10 years), "When this broke in Boston, for example, and they announced a zero-tolerance policy, my reaction was 'Where have they been?'" The vicar general of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, also a part of the interview, also described their Independent Review Board which deals with allegations of sexual abuse by those affiliated with the Church.

Regarding the disciplining or removing of bishops who reassigned sexually abusive priests, Bishop Boland had this to say:

Well, I think the Holy Father has in this country and overseas removed some bishops. You hate to do it. There's a wonderful fraternity among the priesthood. But sometimes you have to get rid of the bad apples. At this stage, I would have no qualms. That's what I mean by zero tolerance. I would remove them. If I were an adviser to the Holy Father -- and I can tell you I'm not and probably will never be -- I would give him the same advice.

Much of that statement reveals some important awareness on the part of a bishop of the responsibility that some of his brothers have regarding The Situation. Yet he also speaks glowingly of the "wonderful fraternity among the priesthood." I have no doubt that there is a wonderful side to this fellowship. And that aspect should indeed be fostered. However, in so far as this fraternity has also led to the coverup of priestly sins and to the reassigning of clerical sexual abusers, then it needs a good deal of examination and change.

Boland may seem to all for disciplining and removing bishops as a concept, but when applied in a particular case, he seems to back off. In the interview, he was asked the following question,

In a column, I've [the interviewer--Bill Tammeus] called the action by Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston to protect a priest at the expense of other potential victims "unconscionable." Do you agree?"

Bishop Boland responded:

I don't want to enter into Cardinal Law's conscience.... I'm not second-guessing the man. But I would be quite willing for someone to say that was unconscionable. The problem today is we tend to comment on newspaper reports when we were not there....

At other points in the interview, Boland spoke candidly about other issues: priestly celibacy, the ordination of women, the screening of seminarians, etc. I may comment on his statements on these issues later. Until then, I would interested to hear your opinion on what this Bishop had to say about The Situation.


Notre Dame Commencement Speaker

A couple of readers have justly taken me to task of my friendly criticism of Notre Dame's (one of my almae matris--"Oooo, he knows Latin...") choice of commencement speaker for this year's graduation. In fact, one of the readers is a Holy Cross priest, of the order that founded Notre Dame. I claimed that Tim Russert did not meet the high standard for speakers that Notre Dame had met in the past. Yet I also noted that his message valuable and that, in the end, the message was the most important thing.

Apparently, Notre Dame had invited Vicente Fox, President of Mexico, to speak at this year's commencement but that the Mexican parliament did not give him the necessary permission to travel outside the country. Therefore, Notre Dame had to punt (like the football image?) and find another speaker fairly quickly.

Now you may think the Mexico's policy regarding the travelling of their head of state is rather odd. But considering the history of recent Mexican presidents, thats not a bad policy (one of them is now living in Europe in order to avoid corruption charges in his native land). Still, it does sound like a teenager having to ask his or her parents for the keys to the car.

At any rate, the notes that I received showed how out of the loop I am regarding news on the South Bend campus. And it also reminded me that I shouldn't shoot my mouth off (or fingers, as it were) when I am not in the loop on a story.


Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Today's Readings

Jas 4:13-17
Ps 49:2-3, 6-7, 8-10, 11
Mk 9:38-40

"...mortem cotidie ante oculos suspectam habere..." "Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die." This piece of advice is taken fro mthe "tools of good works", the fourth chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict. And it is an idea that usually receives its due attention in monastic formation. Many people might think that such an attitude is an awfully morbid way of living one's day, but I think that James would have approved.

In the first reading, he sharply criticized those believers who make long term plans on the assumption that all will always be well and good. He rightly judges that this approach, making no note of God's sovereignty over our days, is a form of "...boasting..." and "...arrogance..." It does not reveal the basic humility that should undergird the Christian's life.

I was able to learn much about this and, thankfully, start to internalize it in my time as a novice and junior monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey. Yes, it is still something that I struggle with, living now as a husband and a father. But Cindy and I were recently able to 'remind ourselves that we are going to die' by arranging for our proper life insurance. At the same time we also started our retirement planning.

On the surface this may seem very mundane and far from spiritual. But I believe that it is a concrete sign that we recognize the reality of two distinct possibilities with spiritual implications: a quick death, or a long life. Authentic Christian humility is all about recognizing reality as it is and dispelling any pride-filled illusions. Cindy and I have done this in our financial planning. Monks do it in their prayer and through the living out of their vows.

I hold that all Catholics are called to this same humility in the way that view faith traditions other than ours. Yes, we can say rightly with the fathers of Vatican II that the fullness of Christ's Church subsists in the Roman Catholic Church (see Lumen Gentium, no. 8) But those same fathers would want us also to recognize the many spiritual goods that we already share with other Christians with whom we do not yet share a full communion. Such a humble recognition echoes Jesus' words from today's Gospel: "...whoever is not against us is for us."

This humble attitude of our Master has been manifested today in the fruitfulness of various ecumenical dialogues. The examples of the ways in which humility can have an impact on our life of faith are virtually without end, for it is the primary attitude that characterized the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. So let us today heed the words that Paul used to introduce the great hymn of Jesus' humility found in the letter to the Philippians: "Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus..."

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Passing the Buck on the Question of Screeming?

On May 16, the communications office at the USCCB issued the following document: Efforts To Combat Clergy Sexual Abuse Against Minors: A Chronology. It seems to have been drawn up as a resource to be used by various dioceses in their explanation to the laity and to members of the media how the leadership of the Church as dealt with clerical sexual abuse of minors over the course of the past twenty years.

At the bottom of the document is listed and described the six mandates of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse. The fourth of these mandates (the one described in the most detail) deals with the screening of candidates for ministry. From the text provided here, it would seem that the bishops focus their attention primarily on seminaries in the work of screening. This has also been confirmed for me anecdotally in various other comments from bishops that I have read and heard over the past few months.

However, from my experience as a seminarian, the most important screening occurs at the diocesan level, before a man ever enters a seminary. Are the bishops 'passing the buck' by focusing attention on seminaries in regards to the question of screening? Could the same poor management practices that have resulted in some bishops reassigning sexual abusive priests also lead to the approving of marginal, at best, candidates for ordained ministry?

Certainly seminaries are called to do ongoing screening. But, again, in my experience, the results of any screening that a seminary does is immediately shared with diocesan officials. Although diocesan officials usually pay close attention to the recommendations of seminary leaders, the ultimate decision to release or approve a candidate is in the hands of the diocese.

I hope that in their ongoing discussion of The Situation, and of the question of screening in particular, that the bishops focus as much, if not more, attention on diocesan screening procedures than on seminary screening. Both need to be re-examined. But lets not use seminaries as a scape goat for any possible poor diocesan management practices.


Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II

Today's Readings

Jas 4:1-10
Ps 55:7-8, 9-10a, 10b-11a, 23
Mk 9:30-37

Today's scriptures would only require a cursory reading for one to see their direct applicability to The Situation that we face in the Church today. Many things could be said about how sinful priests 'covet' what they 'do not possess', how many of our priests and some of our bishops have become 'lovers of the world' and so have made themselves 'enemies of God.' Such an interpretation is abundantly clear. And so I will leave this for you readers to make these conclusions on your own.

In this time that seems to be so filled with negativity, I would rather focus on something that is positive. For despite the harsh words of James at the start of today's readings, despite Jesus' prediction of his own passion and death, and despite the disciples' prideful quarreling amongt themselves, there is still reason for us to hope when we hear the Word of the Lord proclaimed to us today.

These readings would have meaning for all of us were in the midst of The Situation or not. But we are burdened by the scandals which seem to grow by the day. Therefore, let us all take confidence in James' words: "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." For he speaks these words to us in the midst of others which convict us all--those in orders, religious, and laity--in our sinfulness: "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds."

These are risky words. For all of us who are sinners (and we are all sinners), it is easier to place our trust in the pleasure that I can see that it is within my grasp than it is to draw near to a God who is invisible to our limited eyes. To resist the devil who tempts us through our senses and instead submit to a God whom we cannot see (at least in the same way that we can see ourselves in a mirror) is a risk with which all of us are faced.

Beyond it simply being a risk, it is also hard for us to understand, us, who so depend upon our senses. That is why the disciples did not understand Jesus when their Master spoke of his passion and death. The Cross is indeed folly to those who depend upon the wisdom of the world. And surely these disciples would have been just as confused when Jesus told them that, in order to be the greatest, they must be the last and servant of all. All of these words run counter to what our senses tell us.

When any person deliberately chooses to live the Christian life,--be he a man who is freely choosing to accept the call of the Church to holy orders, be he or she a man or a woman who enters into the consecrated life, or be he or she a man or a woman who chooses to marry or simply strive to live the life of faith in the marketplace--that person is taking a great risk. They are taking a leap of faith into that void that seems to have no bottom.

So on this, I invite all of us who are believers to re-commit ourselves to this risk. Instead of focusing on the sinfulness of others, let us, at least for a moment, remember the temptations that face each one of us each and every day. Let us walk into the void and fall into the loving arms of God.