Sunday, September 16, 2007


I will be taking a break from posting for a while- how long I don't know.

Could just be a week, or a month or several months. As some of you know, I am taking a theology class now so that is an additional time constraint. That, as well as the prayer-intensive process of vocational discernment indicate that I need to be away for a while.

Thank you all for your attention and your comments.

Peace and Light in Christ Jesus.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lift High the Cross!

“To attract souls
and transform them into Himself through love,
Christ has revealed His own infinite love,
His own Heart inflamed by love for souls,
a love that impelled Him to mount the Cross,
to remain with us in the Eucharist
and to enter our souls
and to leave us in testament
His own Mother as our Mother.”

St. Maximilian Kolbe

We adore You O Christ, and we praise You,
because by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Climb THIS mountain.

Today's gospel speaks of Jesus' prayer practice of retreating to the mountains (Luke 6:12):

In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night
in prayer to God.

Those were the days when Christ was getting ready to appoint his chosen Apostles, in the days BEFORE he turned his face to Jerusalem to die and take us with Himself to God. Before he did those courageous things, he took time to turn to the Father.

Saint Ambrose (c. 340-397), Bishop of Milan and Doctor of the Church, speaks of this turning to God. This mountain-climbing prayer belongs not only to Christ but to all of His true followers.

Which mountains are you facing today?

Mountains of decision?
Mountains of work?
Mountains of dispair?

There's another mountain which you need to climb BEFORE dealing with these other mountains. It's the mountain of prayer to the Lord.

(SC 45)

Not all those who pray climb the mountain…, but those who pray well, who rise up above the goods of earth to higher goods, climb onto the summit of watchfulness and love from on high.

Those who worry about worldly riches or honours do not climb the mountain; no one who covets another’s lands climbs the mountain. Those who seek God go up it and those who go up beg the Lord’s aid for their journey.

All great and noble souls climb the mountain for it is not to the first comer alone that the prophet says: “Go up onto a high mountain, you who announce glad tidings to Sion. Cry out at the top of your voice, you who bring good news to Jerusalem,” (Is 40,9).

Not by physical exploits but by high-minded actions will you scale this mountain. Follow Christ…; search the Gospel: you will find that only his disciples climbed up the mountain with the Lord.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Now, for the rest of the story....

This morning I read my St. Paul Sunday Pioneer Press. They reprinted a nice article on on-line confession from the Los Angeles Times. Inexplicably (unless you know the Pioneer Press track record) the article stops in mid paragraph.

The initial part of the article details the decline and (supposed) demise of Confession and Absolution in the Catholic Church, then goes on to what the Press really "digs," groovy descriptions of on-line and Protestant alternatives. Just as the article veers back toward the Catholic Church and appears ready to pick up the Catholic response, it is cut off.

Sure enough, the on-line version at that point reveals the important distinctions which set the Catholic sacrament apart from its therapeutic and consumer-oriented imitators.

As some of you recall (hopefully from recent personal experience) in Reconciliation one is being reconciled by a real person representing Jesus Christ in his Church (the priest). As his representative, the priest speaks the words of Christ himself "I absolve you."

This is so very far away from the on-line confessionals. They appear to be supporting a therapeutic and apparently also voyeuristic self-catharsis. It reminds of a cartoon a priest-friend sent me yesterday. I couldn't post it without paying a $25 fee, but here's the gist.

A priest is sitting in the confessional listening to an earnest penitent and is thinking "this is SO in my blog!" Anyone who knows how tightly the confessional door "seal" is shut, understands the joke. But it does illustrate, however, how foreign our tell-all culture is to the private and personal nature of the confessal relationship. But I digress.

To summarize, other types of confession are about "me and my problems." They represent subjective, self generated solutions based on feeling.

The Catholic Sacrament of Confession, on the other hand, is about the recognition of sin, an objective failure on our part, and the joyful reception of an objective redemption offered to us by a loving God who came to save us in His Son Jesus. That same Jesus established a Church which offers that word of forgiveness.
If you'd RATHER have that kind of bloodless forgiveness, where its just Jesus and you, go ahead and knock yourself out. I can't guarantee that you won't be forgiven. Not my job to determine that.... its God's. But on the other hand, if you want to experience the whole nine yards of forgiveness, then go seek out a priest and just ask.

While the on line article doesn't quite go that far in making the distinction, it does offer up some helpful observations from penitents and priest alike which point the reader in this direction.

For whatever reason, the Pioneer Press chose to cut this last part off, doing injustice both to the original article and its author, as well as its own readers. As in the past, only a crossword-loving roommate stands between me and a noisy protest-driven cancellation letter.

Get up and Follow Christ!

Here is some wisdom around today's gospel reading.

From Philoxenes of Mabbug (? c.523), bishop in Syria

Homilies, no.9 (cf SC 44)

To be his disciple

"Listen to God’s voice prompting you to leave yourself behind to follow Christ and you will be a perfect disciple: “Whoever does not forsake all he has cannot be my disciple.” What have you to say? What answer could you give to that? All your uncertainties and questions fall flat before that single word; the word of truth is the exalted path by which you will make progress.

Again, Jesus said: “Whoever does not renounce all his goods and take up his cross to walk after me, cannot be my disciple.” And to teach us to renounce not only our goods - to give him glory - and the world - to confess him before men - but our life too, he added: “If anyone does not renounce himself, he cannot be my disciple.”…

In another place he said: “Whoever hates his life in this world keeps it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him,” (Jn 12,26). And he then said to his own: “Get up, let us go,” (Jn 14,31). By this word he showed that his place is no more to be found here below than that of his disciples. Lord, where then shall we go? “Where I am, there also let my servant be,” (Jn 12,26).

If Jesus cries out to us: “Get up, let us go!” who will still be so foolish as to consent to remain with the dead in their tombs, dwelling among captives? So every time the world tries to detain you, remember Christ’s word: “Get up, let us go!” So long as you are living, this voice will be enough to stir you. Every time you feel like sitting down, settling, being content to stay where you are, call to mind that voice saying to you insistently : “Get up, let us go!” We shall have to go, anyway.

But go as Jesus went; go because he has told you to and not because death has carried you away in spite of yourself. Whether you like it or not you are walking the road of the departing. But leave at the word of your Master and not simply because you have to. “Get up, let us go!”… Why delay? Christ also walks with you."

Saturday, September 08, 2007

How do we know what to do?

Sometimes Christians can seem a little arrogant, claiming to know God's will for themselves, and sometimes for everyone else also.

All three of Sunday's lectionary readings for Mass provoke us to think a little deeper about certainty, risk, decision making.

The author of Wisdom (9:13-18b) kept on asking the right question....

For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns. And scarce do we guess the things on earth ,and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty;

but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?

Really, who CAN know with certainty about things both earthly and heavenly? What DO we do with that relationship? that job? that heartache? that joy? that errant child? that troublesome thought?
Good question.

In our Second Reading Paul has written a letter asking the recipient to release Paul's friend Onesimus from slavery. He does so in order that Onesimus might help Paul out in his missionary journeys around Asia Minor. Apparently, this slave had run away from his master and was converted by Paul's preaching. Now Paul has sent the slave back to his Christian owner with his request. But notice the nuanced statement of the Apostle:

"...but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary."

Sure, Paul could have used his authority and the obvious moral certainty about freedom to force the owner to decide to release Onesimus. But he didn't. He respected the freedom of the other.

Good lesson for us.
God won't force our hands. He waits like the gentleman that He is, to be asked His opinion. We could do worse for our own selves.

But wait, there's more..... I knew we couldn't get off THAT easy. Life decisions can be tough.... and, as usual, Jesus is going to make them just a little bit more difficult...

I have to repeat the whole passage, its just THAT challenging, and THAT good.
Luke 14:25-33

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus,and he turned and addressed them,
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,wife and children, brothers and sisters,and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundationand finding himself unable to finish the workthe onlookers should laugh at him and say,‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’

Or what king marching into battle would not first sit downand decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away,he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way,anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

The saying starts out tough, and gets tougher.
It seems that Jesus is really asking us to give up our relationships, our money, our decision making power, all that.... and to focus entirely on Him.
And maybe that's true. God is never content to be just a part of a well balanced life, as if he were a breakfast cereal, which needed toast and juice and maybe a little coffee in order to be "complete and nutritious."

But I think it's a much deeper and lengthier process than simply deciding that it all belongs to God and just chucking all responsibility away. Instead, to me this whole discipleship thing really begins when we face a tough decision in life , "what ARE we going to do with X?"

Then, and usually only then, does God give us the freedom of will to turn to Him- by admitting that we don't have any idea of what we are to do, and give him the preferential option we too often keep for ourselves.

What do YOU want me to do, Lord?

Tough ground to stand on. But high ground too. God, help us to arrive there.

Mother, Show us Jesus!

Today is the 20th anniversary of my mother's death. It's also the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In so many ways, I feel that Mary has become even more my Mother since my mom's passing... not taking her place, but continuing that unconditional merciful caring that my mom consistently showed to me.

However, that love isn't just or even primarily maternal. That love springs from a Source even deeper and more profound. I see the tableau of Jesus on the Cross over the figures of Mary and the Beloved Disciple. In that moment the purpose of Mary's birth was fulfilled. The Son whom she bore was bearing our sins away forever. That's the true Love of which maternal love is an imperfect although very beautiful image.

Then I see the great transaction- signaled by Jesus' handing over of His Mother to her new son, John. "Son, behold your mother.... Mother, behold your son." In those words Jesus not only commited his Mother to the care of the Beloved disciple. He also created a new relationship for me, for all of us, with the Mother of All Souls. She cares for us, and we care about Her.

So, today I am thankful for my earthly mother. And just as much for my heavenly Mother.

I know I've been posting a lot of B-16 recently. But here are some irresistable paragraphs from the Holy Father's Homily at Mariazell for the Nativity of Mary.

"To gaze upon Christ" is the motto of this day. For one who is searching, this summons repeatedly turns into a spontaneous plea, a plea addressed especially to Mary, who has given us Christ as her Son: "Show us Jesus!" Let us make this prayer today with our whole heart; let us make this prayer above and beyond the present moment, as we inwardly seek the Face of the Redeemer.

"Show us Jesus!" Mary responds, showing him to us in the first instance as a child. God has made himself small for us. God comes not with external force, but he comes in the powerlessness of his love, which is where his true strength lies. He places himself in our hands. He asks for our love. He invites us to become small ourselves, to come down from our high thrones and to learn to be childlike before God. He speaks to us informally. He asks us to trust him and thus to learn how to live in truth and love.

The child Jesus naturally reminds us also of all the children in the world, in whom he wishes to come to us. Children who live in poverty; who are exploited as soldiers; who have never been able to experience the love of parents; sick and suffering children, but also those who are joyful and healthy. Europe has become child-poor: we want everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future. Yet the earth will be deprived of a future only when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart are extinguished -- when the face of God no longer shines upon the earth. Where God is, there is the future.

"To gaze upon Christ": let us look briefly now at the Crucified One above the high altar. God saved the world not by the sword, but by the Cross. In dying, Jesus extends his arms. This, in the first place, is the posture of the Passion, in which he lets himself be nailed to the Cross for us, in order to give us his life. Yet outstretched arms are also the posture of one who prays, the stance assumed by the priest when he extends his arms in prayer: Jesus transformed the Passion, his suffering and his death, into prayer, and in this way he transformed it into an act of love for God and for humanity. That, finally, is why the outstretched arms of the Crucified One are also a gesture of embracing, by which he draws us to himself, wishing to enfold us in his loving hands. In this way he is an image of the living God, he is God himself, and we may entrust ourselves to him.

"To gaze upon Christ!" If we do this, we realize that Christianity is more than and different from a moral code, from a series of requirements and laws. It is the gift of a friendship that lasts through life and death: "No longer do I call you servants, but friends" (Jn 15:15), the Lord says to his disciples. We entrust ourselves to this friendship. Yet precisely because Christianity is more than a moral system, because it is the gift of friendship, for this reason it also contains within itself great moral strength, which is so urgently needed today on account of the challenges of our time. If with Jesus Christ and his Church we constantly re-read the Ten Commandments of Sinai, entering into their full depth, then a great, valid and lasting teaching unfolds before us.

The Ten Commandments are first and foremost a "yes" to God, to a God who loves us and leads us, who carries us and yet allows us our freedom: indeed, it is he who makes our freedom real (the first three commandments). It is a "yes" to the family (fourth commandment), a "yes" to life (fifth commandment), a "yes" to responsible love (sixth commandment), a "yes" to solidarity, to social responsibility and to justice (seventh commandment), a "yes" to truth (eighth commandment) and a "yes" to respect for other people and for what is theirs (ninth and tenth commandments). By the strength of our friendship with the living God we live this manifold "yes" and at the same time we carry it as a signpost into this world of ours today.

"Show us Jesus!" It was with this plea to the Mother of the Lord that we set off on our journey here. This same plea will accompany us as we return to our daily lives. And we know that Mary hears our prayer: yes, whenever we look towards Mary, she shows us Jesus. Thus we can find the right path, we can follow it step by step, filled with joyful confidence that the path leads into the light -- into the joy of eternal Love. Amen."

Friday, September 07, 2007

What's sauce for the goose...

... is sauce for the gander. That's what my mother used to say when I didn't want to eay what everybody else was eating at the family meal.

It's true at the table of the Church also.

I thought of that today when I read Benedict XVI's comments during his audience with prelates from Asia. I don't think he's necessarily giving the same advice to leaders, irrespective of their country of origin. But I sure hear the wisdom in his words which can be applied to our own American situation. The highlighted comments about clear announcement of the faith, respectful dialogue and works of compassion are especially meaningful.

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 6, 2007 (

The Church wants the freedom to announce the faith, not impose it, says Benedict XVI. The Pope said that today when he received in audience bishops from Laos and Cambodia, in Italy for their five-yearly visit."You carry out your ministry at the service of the Church," the Holy Father told the prelates, "in often difficult conditions and in a great variety of situations. Be sure that you have my fraternal support and the support of the universal Church in your service to the people of God."The aid you receive in various fields from older Churches, especially as regards pastoral care workers and formation, is also an eloquent sign of the solidarity that Christ's disciples should show to one another."

Benedict XVI said that one of the most important elements of the bishops' ministry is the announcement of the Christian faith.He noted that "the recent celebration of the 450th anniversary of the presence of the Church in Cambodia was an occasion for the faithful to gain a deeper awareness of the long history of Christians in the region."

The Pope added: "In truth, the Christian faith is not foreign to your peoples."'Jesus is the Good News for the men and women of every time and place in their search for the meaning of existence and for the truth of their own humanity,' and in her announcement to all peoples, the Church does not wish to impose herself but to bear witness to her respect for human beings and for the society in which she lives."

The Holy Father said that in the social and religious context of the regions where the bishops work, "it is vitally important that Catholics express their own identity, while always respecting other religious traditions and cultures. ... This identity must be expressed, primarily, through an authentic spiritual experience based on accepting the word of God and on the sacraments of the Church." Thus, the Pontiff told the bishops their priority is the formation of the faithful, above all religious and catechists.He said that "with a solidly founded Christian faith, they can establish authentic dialogue with members of other religions so as to cooperate in developing your countries and in promoting the common good."

The Bishop of Rome also addressed the issues of education and family."Appropriate preparation for Christian marriage is particularly important," he said.He encouraged the prelates to teach young people "family values such as filial respect, love and care for the aged and the sick, love of children and harmony, [which] are held in high esteem in all Asian cultures and religious traditions."

Benedict XVI concluded with an appeal to care for the underprivileged, calling this "a specific sign of the authenticity" of faith.The Church's social activities, he said, "enjoy the appreciation of the population and of the authorities" because "they eloquently highlight God's love for all human beings with distinction. Therefore, it is very important that the Church's charitable work maintains all of its splendor and does not become just another form of social assistance."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Musical Pope

How cool is this? I was reminded one again about how much our Holy Father Benedict XVI loves music by this note today on Zenit:

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 5, 2007 ( Benedict XVI says that music has the power to lead us to the Creator of all harmony.The Pope said this Tuesday, following a concert he attended in the inner courtyard of the apostolic palace at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
According to the Vatican press office, the event was organized by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra as part of the celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the archdiocese of that German city.

The Pontiff said that music "has the power to lead us back ... to the Creator of all harmony, creating a resonance within us which is like being in tune with the beauty and truth of God, with the reality which no human knowledge or philosophy can ever express."Benedict XVI thanked the conductor and members of the orchestra, as well as the event's organizers and promoters.

He said the concert was a "gift which I interpret as being the sign of a special bond of affection between the Archdiocese of Bamberg and Peter's successor."He added: "May your jubilee pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles […] strengthen your faith and joy in God, that you may become his witnesses in daily life."

"Cantare amantis est" (trans- singing is a lover's thing)- St. Augustine, as quoted by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in The Spirit of the Liturgy

Mother Teresa's Heart of Darkness

"To be alone with Jesus in adoration and intimate union with Him is the Greatest Gift of Love - the tender love of Our Father in Heaven."

- Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Interesting quote from Mother Teresa, especially in light of recent "revelations" about her dark moods and decades-long feelings of adandonment. If you put this quote right up next to those darkest of moments, what happens?

One response is to see in Mother Teresa symptoms of a systemic problem. We are all familiar with the best-seller question: why do bad things happen to good people? But the question becomes even more acute when one internalizes the whole experience, the problem of suffering writ small, on the tablet of the human soul

The question then goes like this: how could a loving God tolerate provoking feelings of abandonment in His children, imposing on them decades of emotional suffering? Christopher Hitchens blames the situation (as he frequently does) on organized religion. Hitchens is headed along the right trail, but he doesn't go far enough along it to view the true source of Teresa's angst.

The "crushing unreasonableness" is not a burden imposed on weak souls by the Church itself, as if some internal belief system were the source of Teresa's emotional suffering. It's much deeper, much more profund than that.

The imprint of this unreasonableness finds its source in the Heart of God himself, especially as that Heart reveals its powerful Self in the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary. These two hearts are not direct doorways to sweetness and light, as those who persevere in these twin devotions know.

There is in their midst a Heart of Darkness.

Inside of that Heart there are the teeming poor,wretched souls from Bosnia and hopeless people dying of AIDS. Inside of that Heart are all of the external circumstances which weigh down the world. These are the very wounds which Blessed Teresa of Calcutta herself loved and dressed in the body of this aching world. Like the Sacrament, there are in this Heart the Body broken, and the blood outpoured.

So, it should come as no surprise when a saint's life reveals an inward desolation, a barreness seemingly God-forsaken. It is precisely there where the fruit of love is born. It is precisely and only in the Heart of Darkness that we begin to experience the resurrection light. It is only those who have been there, or at least peered into the Mystery, who understand this divine necessity. It is the necessity which drove our Lord to His Cross. It is the divine necessity which drives His people to sacrifice themselves in lives of service.

Blessed Mother Teresa was not a saint in spite of her inward turmoil, but precisely because of it.
Enough said.

Monday, September 03, 2007

He helped the doing by showing

What made Saint Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) so great?

One could point to his many accomplishments. He was Benedictine, the first monk to be elected Pope, and during his fourteen years as pontiff he suffered many physical ailments. Despite his infirmities, he is credited with wise management of the papal holdings and distributing much of the increase to the poor. He also organized and codified the chant which still bears his name.

Above all, though, he strove to improve the "serve" of church leadership. His pastoral rule is renowned for its sensitivity to individual circumstance, as well as its high view of the pastoral office. It became the gold standard for clergy performance review throughout the early middle ages. Again and again, the Church would fall from this high standard, only to return again and again to this fountainhead. We are in the middle of another such cycle today.

Truly, as its own words advise, Gregory himself helped what he commanded to be done by showing it forth in his own life. Here are some translated excerpts from the Pastoral Rule, through which Gregory's spirit glows.

"The conduct of a prelate ought so far to be superior to the conduct of the people as the life of a shepherd is accustomed to exalt him above the flock. For one whose position is such that the people are called his flock ought anxiously to consider how great a necessity is laid upon him to maintain uprightness. It is necessary, then, that in thought he should be pure, in action firm; discreet in keeping silence; profitable in speech; a near neighbor to every one in sympathy; exalted above all in contemplation; a familiar friend of good livers through humility, unbending against the vices of evil-doers through zeal for righteousness; not relaxing in his care for what is inward by reason of being occupied in outward things, nor neglecting to provide for outward things in his anxiety for what is inward.

The pastor should always be pure in thought, inasmuch as no impurity ought to pollute him who has undertaken the office of wiping away the stains of pollution in the hearts of others also; for the hand that would cleanse from dirt must needs be clean, lest, being itself sordid with clinging mire, it soil all the more whatever it touches.

The pastor should always be a leader in action, that by his living he may point out the way of life to those who are put under him, and that the flock, which follows the voice and manners of the shepherd, may learn how to walk rather through example than through words.

For he who is required by the necessity of his position to speak the highest things is compelled by the same necessity to do the highest things. For that voice more readily penetrates the hearer's heart, which the speaker's life commends, since what he commands by speaking he helps the doing by showing."

May all our clergy, at every level, do as much. I know that many have been hurt by the harshness of clergy or by their leaders' failure to live up to the gospel standard of the Chief Shepherd.

The door through which many have left can also be the entry point through which they return. My prayer is that any and all who have had this experience may also encounter, in God's providence, those men of God who can bring them back once again into the One Fold.

Saint Gregory the Great, pray for us!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Taking the Last Place

From Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916), hermit and missionary to the Sahara

On Retreat, Holy Land, Lent 1898

Following the servant Christ to the last place

[Christ:] See [my] devotion to men and consider what your own should be. See that humility for man’s good and learn to humble yourself to do good…; to make yourself small to win others; not to fear to go lower or lose your rights when it is a matter of doing good; not to believe that in descending you make yourself powerless to do good.

To the contrary, by descending you imitate me; by descending you make use of the same means, for the love of humankind, that I myself employed; by descending you walk in my way and, therefore, in the truth and you are in the best place to lay hold of life and give it to others…By my incarnation I place myself on a level with creatures; by my baptism …on that of sinners; descent, humility…Always descend, always humble yourself.

Let those who are first always stand in the last place, through humility and in disposition of spirit, with an attitude of descent and service. Love of men, humility, the last place: in the last place so long as the divine will does not call you to another, since then you must obey.

Obedience before all else; conformity to God’s will. In the first place be spiritually in the last, through humility: occupy it in the spirit of service, telling yourself that you are only there to serve others and lead them to salvation.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

What is YOUR profit?

This story was shared this past week at the funeral of a fellow parishoner, Firmin Alexander. I thought of it again today when I heard the parable of the talents at Mass.

Firmin definitely didn't bury his talent in the ground. He shared of himself as educator, father, volunteer. Not rich by earthly standards, Firmin found true riches in his Catholic faith, in his family and in service to both. May light perpetual shine upon him.

"The son told his father who operated a small grocery store, "Look, you keep bills in a cigar box, you keep all your money in the cash register, and you keep your receipts in a shoe box! No wonder you don't have any profits- you're so disorganized!"

The father replied, "When I came to this country thirty=fice yars ago, I only had the pants I wore! And now, your sister is a doctor, your brother is a fine teacher, and you soon will be an accountant!"

He continued, "Your mother and I have a nice place to live and a good car!"

"and so, I add this all up- and subtract the pair of pants- this is my profit!"