Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mary - heavy with her burden

In prayer these past few weeks, the image that has come to me and embedded itself in my heart is that of Our Lady, heavy with child, treading the stony path to Bethlehem from Nazareth, full of hope, of anticipation, of joy.

Then I came across this poem by Claudel.
Mary -- heavy with her burden, having conceived
of the Holy Spirit --
Withdrew far from the sight of men, in the depths
of the underground oratory,
Like the dove in the Canticle that flies away
to the cleft in the rock.
She does not move, she says not a word she adores.
She is interior to the world, for her God is no longer outside.
He is her work and her son and her darling and
the fruit of her womb! 

Marie, lourde de son fardeau, ayant conçu de l'Esprit Saint,
S'est retirée loin de la vue des hommes au fond de l'oratoire souterrain,
Comme la colombe du Cantique qui se coule au trou de la muraille. 
Elle ne bouge pas, elle ne dit pas un mot, elle adore.
Elle est intérieure au monde, Dieu pour elle n'est plu au dehors,
Il est son œuvre et son fils et son petit et le fruit des ses entrailles! 

Paul Claudel, Hymne au Sacré-Cœur. 

(Quoted in that amazing commentary, "Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word" by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis) 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The annual Christmas calendar goes online

For several years I've made an annual calendar with photographs from my travels and shared it as a Christmas gift with friends at seminary. This year, I'm giving the money I would have spent on that to charity. (I did make two calendars, one for myself, and one for my mother.)

 So, sorry guys, no Christmas gift calendar this year. You (anyone!) can still get one, however. I've put it up on Lulu and it can be purchased for $16.00. Proceeds will go to A Simple House (see post below on them). So, let's see how this experiment goes. Frankly, I'll be surprised if it goes anywhere ... but hey. (If it works, I suspect I'll be roped in to do something similar for the parish Capital Campaign ... )

This year's theme is, well, churches. (It's what I tend to photograph a lot. And fairly well.) These are interiors of churches that I've visited around the world. Outside Italy (those could fill years worth of calendars). All photographs are mine.

PS: Of the $16.00, I get $4.81. Lulu keeps the rest. Just being up front here. So, $4.81 will go to A Simple House. That "discount" thing? Heh. That was totally egregious. Subtle marketing techniques and all that.

Buy it! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Praebe nobis cor tuum

On Monday, December 9 (the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in the revised calendar this year), I was in frigid Minnesota, to attend the ordination to the episcopate of Fr. Andrew Cozzens, as Titular Bishop of Bisica and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

I first met Bishop Cozzens in 2010, when I was visiting the Companions of Christ in St. Paul. Since then, we've met on a few occasions: he's been to the Mount a couple of times, I've been to the Twin Cities on several occasions. The Companions have been -- at a distance -- a rather big part of my priestly formation. Their Ideals are what I strive to live by. When I received an early morning text on Oct. 1 from Deacon Marc, my close friend who is a seminarian of the St. Paul Archdiocese (and also a member of the Companions), with the news of the appointment of Fr. Cozzens, I was filled with tremendous joy. He is a priest of deep prayer, keen intellect, humility and simplicity. That the Holy Father has raised him to the episcopate is truly a gift to the Church! I was grateful that the parish schedule allowed me a quick get away to attend his ordination.

Bishop Elect Cozzens (center), in what I am calling "Companions Pontificals,"
with Fr. Greg (Diocese of Fargo) and yours truly.
The Ordination Mass was, needless to say, simply beautiful. The magnificent Cathedral of St. Paul, was packed. Hundreds of priests, so many seminarians, deacons, religious, and the faithful filled its vastnesses. There was such an exuberant air on that cold (I mean cold -- it was 0°F!) Minnesota day! The Mass lasted a full three hours. There was a tad bit of confusion during the Prayer of Consecration (let's just say Bishop Cozzens was almost ordained a deacon!). The Te Deum (wonderfully chanted by the seminary schola) had to be repeated, because the newly ordained took his time wandering the vastness of the Cathedral imparting his first episcopal blessing to the faithful. Oh yes, and the Mandate from the Holy Father was misplaced, if just for a moment. This was all taken in his stride by the Archbishop, and certainly, with that characteristic twinkle in his eye, by the Ordinand.

The Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul, MN
It was in the morning and in the evening, bookends to this glorious day, that I got a sense of just what a gift this episcopal appointment is to the Church.

At 7:45 a.m. I joined the Companions for their morning Holy Hour and Lauds in the lovely basement chapel at their house on Marshall Ave. And right there, up front, with this small group of priests and seminarians, was the Bishop-Elect, in a simple fleece and sandals (and appropriately, magenta socks!) praying, singing, praising God, as he would on any other day. Afterward, everyone repaired to the dining room for egg bake and joy-filled, light-hearted, conversation. I could sense the joy, the pride, in those assembled, as the man they've known as a spiritual father, as their seminary professor and mentor, was to take on this immense mantle of responsibility for the People of God. I think we were all struck by just how calm and collected the Bishop-Elect was, how recollected and peaceful. He is a man of true freedom, the freedom of the sons of God, the freedom of Our Lady, freedom which is the fruit of obedience. His simplicity and humility were evident, in choosing to spend these last hours before his Ordination with this community. It is a rarity, and a tremendous gift, to see a bishop relate to priests and seminarians with such fatherly ease.

The episocpal crest on Bishop Cozzens' crosier
At the other end of the day, as the receiving line at the reception in the Crowne Plaza ballroom was dying down, we looked up and there was the newly ordained Bishop, surrounded by the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus, a religious community based in New Ulm, MN, which he had helped found. They had just started chanting a heavenly hymn, the lyrics of which came from St. Louis de Montfort (the source also of Bishop Cozzens' motto, Praebe mihi cor tuum). I saw Mother Mary Clare's face, radiant, effulgent, her eyes closed, enraptured. I was moved to tears at the beauty of this scene, these beautiful Brides of Christ surrounding their spiritual father and singing and praying for him. These moments were truly an icon of spiritual fatherhood.

Totus tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt. 
Accipio te in mea omnia. 
Praebe nobis cor tuum, Maria.

(I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give us your heart.)

While the Bishop went to spend time with his family, I joined my friends (who were among his handlers for the day), in taking his things back to the house, in his old Nissan Sentra (I hope he gets to keep this car!).

It was truly a glorious day, a day of glory, a foretaste, indeed of the life of glory that awaits God's elect. The Church, in all her dazzling diversity and variety, gathered in praise and thanksgiving, rejoicing in the Father's gifts, honoring the "yes" of the Immaculately Conceived Virgin Mother, and the "yes" of one of her little servants, now a High Priest and Shepherd of the flock, a man utterly and totally after the Heart of the Good Shepherd, and the Immaculate Heart of His mother.

Give us all, O Mary, your heart!

Please pray for Bishop Cozzens, and as assumes his duty in a time of great difficulty in his local Church.

Wintry Minnesota! From the "sun room in the Companions' house.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Two fantastic sermons for the Immaculate Conception

Stained glass window of the Immaculate Conception, IC Chapel, Mount St. Mary's Seminary
Both from seminary professors of mine.

The first from Fr. Frederick Miller, Professor of Systematic Theology at the Mount. He's deeply learned, a great teacher, a holy and devout priest, and deeply in love with the Blessed Mother. He gave this sermon for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception a few years back in the seminary oratory, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. Columbia magazine, run by the Knights of Columbus, just published it: "Younger than Sin."
On our own strength it is impossible to remain faithful; grace alone makes us capable of fidelity and fruitfulness. God fills us with his grace in baptism, and Mary, conceived without sin, helps us to cooperate with grace as she did. She teaches us true poverty of spirit, true spiritual littleness; she teaches us to rejoice in poverty of spirit so that God can do his mighty works in us; she teaches us to become like little children in Christ.
The second is from Fr. Larry Donohoo (once with the Hounds of Dominic), Asst. Professor of Systematic Theology, and one of the most brilliant men I've ever met, with a wry sense of humor that always enlivened class. This epic homily is titled "Our Lady of Freedom" and was preached on the Solemnity in 2011. It is totally epic. It's not been published, but Fr. Donohoo shared the text with me a few years ago, and I've uploaded it to Scribd.
Already we have more than enough evidence to build the case to call the Immaculate Conception Our Lady of Freedom. And what is her freedom?  It is the space where virtue flourishes, the garden where desire lives, the womb of hope, and the field of vision. Freedom is the question that admits a divine answer, the possibility that awaits divine resolution. It is the Annunciation.  Mary was free from the start, of course, because she was immacu­lately conceived. But she was also free because without wrinkle or hesitation, without stain or cowardice, she immaculately con­ceived ever new ways of responding to the Lord's grace. She executed what she conceived. Our Lady of Freedom teaches us in this way that the one most passive to receiving God's will is the one who is most active in implementing it.
 She is a Lady of Life, of power, of dynamism, of life, of charism, in possession of each situation because she is fully in posses­sion of her own self, her womanhood, her vocation, her lovable­ness, her greatness. She continues to defy expectations and sometimes propriety, using her feminine charm for the sake of the reign of God.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee! 

Friday, December 06, 2013

Parish featured in Athens Banner Herald

The local newspaper, the Athens Banner & Herald is doing a series on prayer in different religions. Today, they featured the Catholic Church. They'd come by the parish and interviewed me and another parishioner, and also gotten some footage at Mass. Have a look!  The video is embedded below.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Five Blocks Away

Last year, when I was a transitional Deacon assigned to St. Catherine of Siena parish in Kennesaw, I came to know of a unique project that was emerging from the young adults in the parish: to launch the first film produced by a Catholic parish. I met Kevis Santiago -- the director of the movie -- a couple of times, and pledged my support and prayers.

Kevis has some background in film (Interestingly, one of the DVDs about the Traditional Latin Mass produced by the FSSP, was directed by him. It was filmed at St. Francis de Sales parish in the Archdiocese.), and has devoted considerable energy and resources into this project.

Last week, I got an email from Kevis, looking for a priest for a small part in the filming of a promotional/teaser for the movie. So, this afternoon I drove down to the beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart in downtown Atlanta (truly a gem of a church!), and spent several hours with some of the cast and the film crew, filming one scene (which took place in the parish center. Not the sanctuary). I had two lines, which I managed to mess up several times. I have a new appreciation for the hard work that goes into film production! It was a lot of fun! Fr. John, the pastor of St. Catherine's, also showed up to lend moral support.
This grainy cell phone picture does not do justice to the Basilica! 

Kevis and myself after shooting 

They even had cupcakes with the movie initials! 

The director, well, directing 

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Stunning photo of the Basilica, from Flickr. Wish I'd taken this one!

Please keep this project in your prayers, and support them as you can. Lots of information, stories and updates at their website and Facebook page (Like 'em!). This video below gives a sense of the concept of the film.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The sagacity of Pius XI

On the Solemnity of Christ the King it is salutary to read the encyclical "Quas Primas," which His Holiness Pope Pius XI wrote, when establishing the feast in 1925. There is much to ponder in this letter, particularly regarding the Church's social teaching. The following paragraph, however, shows the Pope's keen understanding of human nature, reflecting the Church's wisdom. It is a good reminder on this day, among other things, of the power of the liturgy of the Church, that precious gift and treasure she bears, which opens man up to the mystery of salvation, and brings him into contact with Christ, her Head and King. (Emphasis added)
21. That these blessings may be abundant and lasting in Christian society, it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to the end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ. For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year - in fact, forever. The church's teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man's nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God's teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life.

A Simple House

Several times a year I get a newsletter from a remarkable bunch of folks in the Washington D.C. area. A Simple House is a friendship-evangelization apostolate, where full-time volunteers live in a poor neighborhood and befriend their neighbors. I'd heard of them before (note, all the links in that 2007 blog post are now dead!). In 2010, I was at the FOCUS conference in Baltimore, and bumped into their booth, and had a wonderful chat with a couple of the missionaries. They had, if I recall correctly, committed to this apostolate for the rest of their lives. (They were also about to get married!) In all my time in Maryland, despite the best intentions (and you know what they say about those), I never made it down to visit them. They're on my prayer list, and once in a while, I'll drop them a check. (I think it's been quite a while!)

The newsletters are always awesome. Some have been collected and published as a book! I've put this latest one on Scribd. Have a look. Pray for them. Support them financially if you can.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Media vita in morte sumus

A few of my classmates and I had planned a little vacation time this week, at the Mount. In the morning, at the altar of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in St. Bernard's Chapel, we concelebrated Mass, each of us offering the Holy Sacrifice for the repose of the soul of Fr. Kevin Kayda. Then, on a cold, blustery morning, we drove up to visit his grave, at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Carlisle. The sun was out. The wind howled. We shivered and huddled together, the wind at our back, and prayed the Office of the Dead.

Four pillars mark out an area of the cemetery, we think, reserved for priests. The headstone has not yet been placed. The stone in the center quotes St. Paul's letter to Titus. 

Teach them not to speak ill of anyone and to be peaceful and merciful to everyone. 

Tomorrow, Fr. Kevin would have turned 28. 

Rest in peace, brother. 

The title of the post is from a Latin antiphon. "In the midst of life, we are in death." November is the month for prayers for the faithful departed. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Athens Church

It was one of those rare Sundays where I didn't have an afternoon Mass. So, after the 10:00 a.m. (and Confessions following), I got out of my clerical attire, donned a dress shirt and accompanied by one of our parishioners (a cradle Catholic who, like so many others, has been in the megachurch world) went out to the campus of Athens Church for "the 12" (the noon young adult/college oriented worship service).

Athens Church is a branch ("ministry partner"), if you will, of the highly successful North Point church operation in Atlanta, headed by Pastor Andy Stanley. As we know, tons of Catholics end up in evangelical megachurches such as North Point.

Athens Church is located in a shopping mall, off Atlanta Hwy, just outside the Athens Perimeter. Signs from the highway direct traffic to the parking lot, and several red-vested volunteers flag cars in. The building looks like, well, a shopping mall. It's painted an earthy brown color with red accents, and there's a simple metal sign that says "Athens Church."

Inside, there's music piped, folks milling around. There is a coffee bar, and areas off the main corridor where kids programs are held (the noon service does not provide these). There's an information booth. Everywhere there's friendly red-shirted volunteers smiling and greeting. There's computer stations where one could log into the church website (I didn't see anyone doing this, however). The auditorium itself is closed off with a "rehearsal in progress sign." The crowd is overwhelmingly young -- late teens, early twenties, maybe some older. Largely white, a few non-white faces scattered in. Just before noon the doors open and one files into the cavernous auditorium. The stage is lit with blue light. There are giant screens around it. We sit towards the back. It feels like being in a theater.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

When in Rome do as you done in Milledgeville

Flannery O'Connor's home (for the last fourteen years of her life), is about 90 minutes south of Athens. Last week, one of my oldest friends from SC came up for a visit, and we made a day trip to visit her digs. First, a stop in picturesque Madison (where I ended up buying something from an antique store!). I'd last been in Milledgeville in July, 2010.

In Milledgeville, some time at Sacred Heart parish, the Old Capitol Building, and of course Andalusia. I picked up a paperback collection of her fiction (which I actually don't own!), a good companion to my copy of "The Habit of Being" (the collection of her correspondence). We also visited her grave.

Sacred Heart Church, Milledgeville 
In 2008, UGA press published a delightful volume entitled "A Literary Guide to Flannery O'Connor's Georgia," which includes photos and descriptions of all the places associated with her life in Savannah and Milledgeville. I highly recommend it.

Other works that have been recommended to me, which I haven't gotten to yet: Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph C. Wood, and The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor.

At Andalusia, the docent told us that a new book of her prayer journals, or really, her "letters to God" was being released very soon. The Atlantic magazine has an article on this soon-to-be-released book, which mentions this new release:
This month FSG publishes A Prayer Journal, the contents of a devotional notebook that O’Connor—a turbocharged Catholic—kept from January 1946 to September 1947, while she was a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. It is a miraculous and rather terrifying document, both a blueprint for her fiction and a prophetic dreaming-out of her life’s purpose and pattern: letters to God, basically, from a woman in her early 20s who would later tell a correspondent that she was a Catholic, “not like someone else would be a Baptist or a Methodist, but like someone else would be an atheist.”

The Aquinas Center at Emory had a lecture back in September on Flannery O'Connor, presented by Ralph Woods. (Note to self, get on their email list!)
“I will seek to make the case that the enduring importance of Flannery O’Connor’s work derives, at least in part, from its profound kinship with the fiction and vision of Fyodor Dostoevsky, especially as the latter is exhibited in ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’” Wood says of the lecture. “The essence of this kinship, I will maintain, lies in their willingness to ask the hardest of questions and their refusal to give facile answers to them. This deep affinity, I will further argue, is found in the uncanny likeness between Flannery O’Connor’s remarkable 1952 self-portrait and the most famous of all Orthodox icons, the 6th century Christ Pantocrator from Mt. Sinai.”
2014 will be fifty years since the death of this remarkable writer and Southern Catholic icon. There will be, I'm sure, some academic conferences and other events to commemorate this. I do think the Archdiocese needs to also organize something as well.

A link to all the photos from the trip to Milledgeville, on Google+ 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

You and your baby are beautiful

This morning, I was out with our tireless pro-life prayer warriors at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Lawrenceville. Lawrenceville is some 40 miles west of Athens, at the edge of the metro Atlanta area. This is the nearest Planned Parenthood to us. There were other prayer warriors present from nearby parishes, and  a group from  two Baptist churches (who also had a megaphone).

During my time a the Mount, I'd been a few times to pray at the abortion mill in Hagerstown (and once down at the notorious mill in Germantown), which is located in the grungy, abandoned, downtown area of town. In Lawrenceville, the PP operation is in a strip mall, right on the Lawrenceville-Suwanee road, a high traffic thoroughfare. Next to it is a beauty salon, and just further along in the same strip, a Five Guys. Just another business you know. Get lunch, get your hair done, get an abortion. All part of the marketplace of choice in our enlightened, liberated society.

There is a small, steady trickle of folks going in. All but one are female. The free speech compromise here lets the protesters stand on the grassy embankment next to the road, but not enter the parking lot. So, there is no real option to have sidewalk counsellors stand near the entrance. The Baptists get their megaphone going -- the male preacher, well, preaching. When a car pulls up and a woman gets out, a lady gets on the mic and urges her to come and learn about alternatives choices, to not support a murderous establishment, if she is here get other health care. Most just ignore the protestors. One woman comes out and yells something angrily towards us as she gets into her SUV. The Baptists have had a run in with the police before. They were asked to turn down the volume of their megaphone. It's still quite audible, however. There is also regular honking of support from cars driving by. A periodic, audible, and welcome, sign of support.

One lady, however, parks close to the edge of the embankment. She gets out and looks at us. We smile and wave. She then walks over, to the lady with the megaphone, and they have a long chat. She then goes back to her car and drives off. Perhaps it's a save.

The Catholic group spends most of its time in prayer. We pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet and liberally sprinkle the St. Michael prayer. It's a grey, dank, overcast and cold day, the temps hovering around 60 degrees. Some of the folks are seasoned prayer warriors. They've been doing this for years. Their dedication is heartening and inspiring.

We're in the middle of the 40 Days for Life campaign, which has had seen some spectacular stories. Most of the time, however, it is just quiet dedication. And prayer. Nothing seems to happen. The mill churns away.

I recall a conversation with a parishioner after Mass a few years ago, during one of my summer parish assignments as a seminarian. "Father" (It was always pointless to keep explaining that I was not yet a priest), "why doesn't Jesus do something about abortion? He can just end it, can't He?" This led to a discussion of the problem of evil. Jesus does do something. He did, on the Cross. He is active now, especially in His body, the Church.

And no matter the weather, the numbers, the anger and opposition of others (even within the Church!), the Body of Christ will continue to show up. To pray. To offer alternatives. To witness. To love.

You and your baby are beautiful.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The affinity between man and God

Mothers' breasts are sometimes so full that they must offer them to some child, and though the child takes the breast with great avidity, the nurse offers it still more eagerly, the child pressed by its necessity, and the mother by her abundance.
St. Francis of Sales. Treatise on the Love of God (Chapter XV, "Of the affinity there is between God and man").  Kindle Edition.

The context is the divine eagerness to communicate Its goodness to mankind, and the poverty of man who needs God's grace. This is the affinity between man and God, writes this saintly doctor of the Church -- the one with a void that the other is only too eager to fill. Like a mother breast feeding her child.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bishop Elect Cozzens' talk at Mount St. Mary's in 2013

Today, I woke up to some great news: Fr. Andrew Cozzens, priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, was named by His Holiness, Pope Francis, as a new Auxiliary Bishop for his Archdiocese. 

Bishop-Elect Cozzens is one of the founders of the priestly fraternity The Companions of Christ. Their charism and life have influenced me tremendously, and I strive, to the best of my ability, to follow their ideals. One of my best friends from the Mount left his home diocese to move to the Twin Cities and join the Companions. He was recently ordained a Deacon for that Church. I've had the privilege of hanging out with Bishop-Elect Cozzens on various visits to the Twin Cities.

Last year, while I was in my last year of formation at the Mount, we were privileged to hear a talk by then Fr. Cozzens as part of a symposium for the Year of Faith. The title of the talk is "Presbyterorum Ordinis: The Call of the Priest to Live the Total Self-Gift of Christ's Pastoral Charity." It is a summary of Fr. Cozzens' doctoral thesis on the evangelical counsels and the priesthood. 

I cannot find a copy of the talk on the Mount's website. I hope they put it up soon -- in the meanwhile, I've uploaded the sound file to Sound Cloud. This is one of the best talks on the priesthood that I have heard. Word to the wise: It is an academic talk, not a popular one, and is about 50 minutes long. 

What a great gift to the Church the Holy Father has given us today! Bishop-Elect Cozzens: ad multos annos! 

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Fr. Kevin Kayda, 1985-2013

Photo of Fr. Kevin on a bulletin board in a hallway at the Mount
I am writing this in a car full of priests, on the long slog on I-81 through Virginia. There is lighthearted banter interspersed with periods of reflective silence. Each of us stares at his electronic device, or watches a show on the iPad. We pray the Divine Office together as the hours roll by. On the trip up on Monday, we talked and laughed most of the way, enjoying each other’s company. We hadn’t seen each other in a while. Things are a little more somber today.

Last Thursday, our classmate, friend and brother priest, Fr. Kevin Kayda, died unexpectedly, just over a month shy of his 28th birthday. I was having dinner when the email from the Rector of the seminary popped up on the phone, and I stared at the screen in disbelief. There followed a flurry of phone calls and text messages with my classmates across the country. Shock, disbelief, speculation. What happened?

Services were planned for the following Monday evening and Tuesday afternoon at Fr. Kevin’s home parish, St. Patrick’s, in Carlisle, PA. We were on the horn sharing travel plans, coordinating rides. Two of us suggested that we all gather at the Mount, about 50 minutes away from Carlisle. “It will be good for all of us to be together.” It seemed natural to go back to our Mountain home.

On Saturday we got the official notice, that Fr. Kevin had taken his own life. It was like a sucker punch to the gut, even though some of us had suspected this.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Dear Odifreddi ... " Pope Benedict's letter in English

On Sept. 24, the Italian newspaper "La Repubblica" carried excerpts from a letter written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to an Italian mathematician, Piergiorgia Odifreddi. This NCR(egister) story has the details and the meat of the excerpts. John Allen's piece provides some backstory as well.

As a ludicrous exercise in staying up late, I decided to translate the Repubblica article. So here is the English translation of what La Repubblica published.

[Disclaimer: I am not a native speaker of Italian, nor, for that matter, have I formally studied it. I do speak it fairly decently. The translation is fairly literal, and the word order, often, not intuitively English.]

Ratzinger: “Dear Odifreddi: Let me tell you who Jesus was.” 

(La Repubblica. September 24, 2013) 

Respected Professor Odifreddi, (…) I would like to thank you for engaging with my book in such detail, and so also, with my faith; this is precisely what I had intended to do, for the large part, in my discourse to the Roman Curia in the Christmas of 2009. I must also thank you for the fair treatment you have given my text, seeking sincerely to do it justice. 

My judgment concerning your book, on the whole is, however, in itself rather mixed. I have read some parts of it with enjoyment and profit. In other parts, instead, I marveled at a certain aggressiveness and recklessness of argumentation. (…) 

Many times it [your text] pointed out to me that theology would be science fiction. In this respect, I marveled that you still considered my book worth of such a detailed discussion. Please permit to propose with respect to such questions, four points. 

  1. It is correct to affirm that only mathematics is “science” in the narrowest sense of the word; and meanwhile I have learned from you that even here one must distinguish again between arithmetic and geometry. In all specific subjects, in any case, the scientific character [la scientificità] has its own form according to the uniqueness of its object. What is essential is that one applies a verifiable method, excludes arbitrariness, and ensures rationality in each of their different modalities. 
  2. One should at least acknowledge that in the area of history, as well as that of philosophy, theology has produced lasting results. 
  3. An important function of theology is that of keeping religion linked to reason, and reason, to religion. Both these functions are of essential importance to humanity. In my dialogue with Habermas, I have shown that there exist pathologies of religion and – not less dangerous – pathologies of reason. Each has a need of the other, and to keep them continually connected is one of the tasks of theology. 
  4. Science fiction exists, on the other hand, in the ambit of many sciences. That which you explain about theories concerning the beginning and the end of the world in Heisenberg, Schrödinger, etc., I would designate as science fiction in the good sense of that phrase: they are visions and anticipations, in order to reach a true knowledge, but they are also, precisely, only imaginations with which we seek to come close to reality. There indeed exists, science fiction in a grand style, for instance, within the theory of evolution. The “selfish gene” of Richard Dawkins is a classic example of science fiction. The great Jacques Monod wrote some sentences that he himself has certainly inserted in his work only as science fiction. I quote, “The emergence of tetrapod vertebrates ... draws its origin from the fact that a primitive fish ‘chose’ to go and explore the land, on which, however, it was unable to move except by jumping clumsily and thus creating, as a result of a modification of behavior, the selective pressure due to which the sturdy limbs of tetrapods would develop. Some of the descendants of this bold explorer, this Magellan of evolution, can run at a speed of 70 miles per hour ... " (“Chance and Necessity.” Italian edition. Milan 2001. p. 117.)

In all the subjects we have discussed so far, one is dealing with a serious dialogue, for which I – as I have already said repeatedly – am grateful. Things are different in the chapter about the priesthood and Catholic morality, and even more different in the chapters about Jesus. With respect to what you say about the moral abuse (sic) of minors by priests, I  – as you know – take note only with deep concern. I have never tried to conceal these things. That the power of evil penetrates to such an extent in the interior world of faith is for us a suffering which, on one hand, we have to endure, and on the other, we must, at the same time, do everything possible so that cases of this type are not repeated. Nor is it at all any source of comfort to know that, according to the research of sociologists, the percentage of priests guilty of these crimes is not higher than those present in other similar professional categories. In any case, one must not ostentatiously (sic) present this deviation as if it were a filth specific to Catholicism. 

If it is not licit to keep silent about evil in the Church, one should not also, however, keep silent about the great wake of goodness and purity that the Christian faith has carried [tracciato, tracked] down the centuries. One needs only remember the great and pure figures the faith has produced – from Benedict of Nursia and his sister, Scholastica, to Francis and Clare, to Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, and the great saints of charity such as Vincent de Paul and Camillus de Lellis, all the way to Mother Theresa of Calcutta, and the great and noble figures of 19th century Turin. And it is true even today that the faith pushes many persons to love disinterestedly, to the service for others, to sincerity and to justice. (…) 

What you say about Jesus is not worthy of your rank as a scientist. If you pose the question whether, in the end, we know nothing of Jesus as a historical figure, that there is nothing ascertainable, then I can only invite you to become a little more competent from a historical point of view. I recommend to you for this, above all, the four volumes that Martin Hengel (exegete of the Protestant Theological Faculty of Tübingen) has published with Maria Schwemer: it is an excellent example historic precision and of the widest historical information. In light of this, what you say about Jesus is reckless speech which must not be repeated. That in exegesis there have also been written many things with a lack of seriousness is, of course, incontestable. The American seminary you cite on p. 105 (and ff.) concerning Jesus, only confirms once again what Albert Schweizer had noted with respect to the Leben-Jesu-Forschung (The Quest for the Life of Jesus), and that is that the so-called “Historical Jesus” is no more than a mirror of the ideas of the authors. Such forms of botched historical works, however, do not compromise the importance of serious historical research, which has led us to true and reliable knowledge about the proclamation and figure of Jesus. 

(…) I have also to forcefully reject your claim (p. 126), that I have presented historical-critical exegesis as a tool of the Antichrist. In treating the story of Jesus’ temptations, I have only taken Soloviev’s thesis, according to which the historical-critical method can also be used by the Antichrist – a fact which is indisputable. At the same time, however - and particularly in the preface to the first volume of my book on Jesus of Nazareth - I explained clearly that historical-critical exegesis is necessary for a faith that does not propose myths with historical images, but calls for a genuine historicity and therefore must present the historical reality of its claims in a scientific manner. For this reason, it is not even correct that you tell me I would be interested only in metahistory: on the contrary, all my efforts aim to show that the Jesus described in the Gospels is also the real historical Jesus; that they deal with a story [storia] that actually took place. (…) 

With the 19th chapter of your book, we turn back to the positive aspects of your dialogue with my thinking. (…) Even if your interpretation of John 1:1 is very far from what the evangelist intended to say, there exists, still, a convergence that is important. If you, however, want to replace God with “Nature,” the question remains as to who or what this nature is. Nowhere do you define it, and thus it appears as an irrational deity who explains nothing. I would like, however, to note further that in your religion of mathematics, three fundamental themes of human existence are not considered: freedom, love and evil. I marvel that you, with one nod, liquidate freedom, which has been, and remains, the core value of the modern epoch. Love does not appear in your book, and there is no information concerning evil. Whatever neurobiology might say or not say concerning freedom, in the real drama of our history [storia], it is present as a determining reality and must be taken into consideration. However, your religion of mathematics has no information concerning evil. A religion that omits these fundamental questions, remains empty. 

Most respected Professor, my critique of your book is, in parts, harsh. But frankness is a part of dialogue; only thus can knowledge grow. You have been very frank, and therefore you will accept that I will also be. In any case, however, I value very much the fact that you, through your engagement with my “Introduction to Christianity,” have sought such an open dialogue with the faith of the Catholic Church and, notwithstanding all the disagreements in the main part, convergences have also not been missing.  

With cordial greetings and every good wish for your work ... 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Padre, me accuso de ... "

That's how so many of the Spanish confessions I hear begin. At some point, this must have been the formula that many learned. "Father, I accuse myself of ... "

I like it. A lot. It is self abnegating. It is humble. It gets right to the point. No beating around the bush. No dawdling. Father, I accuse myself. I am a sinner.

In that interview which is making all kinds of waves today in the media (How long can people live with this ache, "Oh finally, the Church is going to become what I want her to be!"), that is how Pope Francis answers the very first question. "Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?"

"I am a sinner."

He means it. He is an utterly sincere and honest man.

He even gives examples. When talking about his leadership style, he accuses himself of being too authoritarian, too controlling. A remarkable disclosure in an interview that will be followed by millions. No politician would dare speak with such candor (unless it be, perhaps, after a scandalous exposé).

"Father, I accuse myself."

What do you accuse yourself of? Where do you know you need healing? Forgiveness? Make yourself little. He must increase but I must decrease. The very first step of healing, of return, is to acknowledge one's real condition. We are all sinners. We all need mercy. (If there were no sin, there would be no need for mercy!) God is waiting with open arms.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Vatican Radio Interviews

In May I got an email from the head of the English language broadcast for the South Asia section of Vatican Radio, requesting an interview as part of their "Year of Faith" series. I happened to be in Rome in June, soon after Ordination and went over the VR offices off V. Concelazione. The interview was split into three parts, and appeared on successive weeks in August, and are archived on the VR website.




Thursday, September 05, 2013

Teacher's Day

In India, September 5 is commemorated as "Teacher's Day," in memory of Dr. Sarveppalli Radhakrishnan, the second President of the Republic, a philosopher and educator.

The teachers and administrators of Campion School, Bombay, 1993. 
When we lived in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat in western India, the local custom was for the senior school children to serve as teachers and administrators on this day. In 7th grade at St. Xavier's Loyola Hall (then at the edge of town, surrounded by trees and open fields), as part of the senior class of primary school (In India, school goes till 10th grade, and the divisions are different), somehow, I was elected Principal for Teacher's Day. It was quite a surprise. I was a shy, nerdy, introverted guy and had no idea I could be so popular. (The coolest job, however, was for the boy elected to be the bell ringer. Normally the task of a lowly peon, this was a coveted role for 12 year olds.)

I really don't remember if we had "real school" that day. It was probably a half day. There were classes. But students played the teachers. The teachers themselves were honored and feted. As Principal, I got make announcements over the PA. I think I even got to say some prayers. (This wasn't new. I used to sing in the choir which gathered in the Principal's office every morning for the prayers which went out over the PA. The only song I remember went, simply, "God is so good. God is so good. God is so good to me and to you.") I think I then made the rounds of the classes to make sure all was in order. And I recall there was a bit of a snafu when the bell ringer rang the bell at the wrong time and much chaos ensued. The highlight, however, was sitting in Fr. Charlie's big, swiveling chair. Unlike the previous Principal, a tall, stern man who was known for boxing ears for misbehavior, Fr. Charlie was kind, cool and hugely popular. I adored him.

We lived in Ahmedabad for three years. My happiest memories from school, however, involved the afternoons after school let out. My best friend Sam (my only friend, really) and I would wander through the back yard pretending we were commandoes in World War II. We were both avid readers of Commando comics.

The following year, we moved to Bombay, and I was enrolled in Campion School, a prestigious, South Bombay prep school run by the Jesuits. Campion was a huge culture shock, coming into the elite world of South Bombay from hicksville Gujarat. The teachers were a cast of characters themselves. Mr Bhal, who taught Hindi, was a terror in class, but a softy with a huge heart. There was Mr. Irani, who taught physics. Mrs. Shenoy, plump and pleasant, who taught geography. Mr. Gomes, our strict chemistry teacher, and Mr. Colaco, much more laid back. (He also brought me back early, on a local train, from an NCC camp, after I fell sick.)  And later on, the hugely popular Mrs. Ramadorai, who taught History. Mr. Kenneth Dyer -- the first layman to be named Principal, who also taught Accounting. You knew you had the right answer on his tests, because they were all round numbers. He insisted that I take a typing class, a skill for which I am ever grateful. There was Fr. Richard Lanesmith, an Australian Jesuit, a herpetologist by training (look it up!), who taught "Moral Science" (what non-Catholics got while the Catholics were in Religion class), and whose office was always a cool hangout because of the snakes he kept there. Mr. Hodiwalla, the PT teacher, who took pity on my flabby self, and let me get away with the simplest of exercises during the PT exams.

However, in a league of his own, was Mr. Joe Sheth. Shakespeare came alive in his classes: Julius Ceasar in 8th grade; The Merchant of Venice, in 9th.  His voice still rings in my head at Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes?" or Portia's "The quality of mercy is not strain'd." Byron, Shelly, Milton and Tennyson dripped from our tongues. (I could possibly still recite "Ozymandias" from memory!) We loved Sheth wildly, deeply. Perhaps two years after our class graduated from 10th grade ("O" levels in the British usage), we received word that Mr. Sheth had died of a sudden heart attack. It was such a shock. The day of his funeral is a etched into my memory. A bunch of us who were at St. Xavier's Junior College in Dhobitalao, took the train up to Andheri. A vast crowd packed into Holy Family Parish, Chakala, for the funeral Mass. I was in a row right at the back, and pretended to mumble the responses. The coffin was surrounded by the distraught family, and we surged out behind it after the Mass, to the graveyard outside, as the sun set, and darkness fell.

This June, some of the Campion Class of 1988 got together with a bunch of teachers from the school for dinner in Mumbai, before heading to Goa for a big reunion. I was in India at the time, but, unfortunately, was unable to participate. 
Today is a day to reflect on the invaluable role that so many teachers have played in our lives. Their selfless devotion to their art, for little material reward. Their quirks. Their flaws. Their humanity. Their love for us. All these teachers -- and many who came after -- have shaped me and formed me into the man I am today. Several have gone on to their eternal reward. For all, I am utterly grateful. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Residue of faith of ages past

Ended up at the warehouse of King Richards, Atlanta based church restoration and design consultants, who also have a warehouse of all kinds of artwork from churches across the U.S. and Europe. Amazing stuff -- statues, candles, entire altars and high-altars, reredos, stations ... you name it. My seminarian buddy and I wandered around in slack-jawed - the residue, so it seemed, of the faith of ages past. At least they're trying to save some precious artifacts, and sell it to churches for sacred use.

I was delighted to learn that King Richards was involved in the restoration and renovation of Sacred Heart in Peoria, a stunningly beautiful church, which I visited back in May. Here's a photo ...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Omnia instaurare in Christo

Thanks to a generous friend in seminary, I acquired a first class relic of Pope St. Pius X. It complements the chalice I received at Ordination very well (a late 19th century French antique from the time of Bl. Pius IX, that had been presented by Pope St. Pius to the Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon)

Unfortunately, thanks to a less than adequate night's sleep and consequent haste this morning, I forgot to take this relic with me to Daily Mass so that the faithful could venerate it. Next year! I did use my chalice for Mass though ...

Pius X is the co-patron of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The more I learn about him, the more I love this humble and simple shepherd, as well as his zeal for reform. Omnia instaurare in Christo ... ! 

Thursday, August 08, 2013

He converted him by his joy

Among my dad's extensive LP collection (remember those?) was this album by the "Singing Nun" (Soeure Sourire -- Sister Smile in French), which including the hit 1960s single "Dominique."

It is a catchy tune, with a frolicsome air. As a kid (in the 1980s!) I listened to it often. It was really through listening to various records that I learned to savor the texture and feel of the words of different languages (Beethoven's 9th, with Schiller's, "Ode to Joy" was another favorite).
Dominique, nique nique s'en allait tout simplement
Routier pauvre et chantant
En tous chemins, en tous lieux
Il ne parle que du bon Dieu
Il ne parle que du bon Dieu 
Dominic, Nic, Nic
He goes along very simply
Travelling in poverty and singing.
On every road, in every place,
He just talks about the good Lord,
He just talks about the good Lord.
The line that I remember so clearly is the one where St. Dominic encounters a heretic on the road who casts him into thorns. But he converts him, by his joy. I know the French words by heart ...
Certain jour un heretique
Par des ronces le conduit Mais notre pere Dominique
Par sa joie le convertit.
The album was recorded by Sr. Luc-Gabrielle, born Jeanne Deckers, a Belgian Dominican sister. Her life took a difficult and tragic turn after the album was recorded. In the tumultuous years after the Council, and amid conflicts with her order because of her musical fame, she left the convent in 1966, and grew increasingly disillusioned with Catholic doctrine (eventually composing an encomium to the Pill). She moved in with a close female friend. Her musical career never really took off again. They committed suicide together in 1985, amid financial difficulties.

The song "Dominique" is a tribute to the founder of the Order of Preachers, St. Dominic Guzmann, whose feast the Church marks today, August 8. May he intercede for the soul of this wayward daughter. May his joy, which is the joy of the Holy Spirit, grow and deepen within our own hearts.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Myeongdong Cathedral

[More photos on Flickr.]

An oasis of quiet surrounds the oldest Gothic church building in Korea, located in the midst of the bustling Myeongdong neighborhood. There is construction for an expanded plaza going on in front, so the fences and walls block its view from the street. One approaches up some shallow steps that lead up a low hill. On either side, on the fence surrounding the construction side, are large billboards with photographs and a write up of the Cathedral's history.

The Cathedral is built on the spot where the first Korean Catholic community in Seoul gathered in the late 18th century. The story of the founding of the Church in Korea is fascinating.

It is a striking, red-brick building, the spire soaring up to the heavens. In the plaza there are people lounging about, talking quietly, reading, or just sitting. It's about 6 p.m. and not at all crowded. I push the side door to the Cathedral open. Mass is in progress. The faithful have just exchanged the sign of peace, and the Lamb of God is being recited. I slide along the back wall until I can see down the central aisle. The priest, in red vestments (the Feast of St. James) is at the tabernacle, retrieving the ciborium. The faithful start lining up to receive. I kneel, as the organ starts playing a familiar melody, and a solemn, yet lively song in Korean rises to the vaulted ceiling. There are at least 150 or so people at this 6:00 p.m. weekday Mass. A lady in a bright red dress emerges from some back corner, and mutters something loudly to herself and fiddles with her umbrella. It's a cloudy day outside, but no sign of rain. "Crazy lady," I immediately think. She shoves aside the brass post and rope that seals off the end of the nave (a sign in Korean saying, I'm guessing, something to the effect that no tours should take place during Mass) and heads up the aisle. A group of tourists clusters nervously in the back pew and one takes out a hymnal and peers at it. The hymn changes. All along the great pillars of the church are large TV screens and an electronic display with the number of the hymn, facing the side aisles.

It is so peaceful. I pray. After Mass is over, I go up the aisle and pray Vespers and sit in the quiet. Soon, people start gathering again for the 7:00 p.m. Mass.

I pick up a brochure from the rack at the back of the church, take a few photos and head outside. The entrance to the crypt is from the outside. The crypt chapel is divided into symmetrical geometrical sections by various retaining walls, giving it the feel of a maze, or something in Hogwarts. Behind the altar are the relics of the Korean martyrs. The tabernacle door has a built-in monstrance. Adoration! There are at least a dozen or more people scattered throughout. I find a corner and pray my rosary, praying especially for the intercession of Andrew Kim and his companions for seminarian friends of mine of Korean descent.

Panel with a photograph from 1896 showing the construction of the Cathedral
Outside, dusk is approaching. Behind the church building is a beautiful statue of Our Lady, a gift from France, for the 100th anniversary of the parish, in 1948. A bank of votive candles (covered by glass from the breeze and elements) shimmers.

As I head out down the stairs, a black official looking car is parked at the bottom of the stairs. I spot two clerics and a few others. I suspect one is the bishop, by the amount of bowing and deference the others are showing him. He gets into the car and it drives off.

I turn round the corner and head back into the sea of neon and noise.