February 28, 2008


Yesterday I went to a day of recollection for priests. It was good to get away and be able to pray and reflect a little. It's a pain to be behind in returning phone calls for a couple of days, but I'm still glad I went.

The presenter was a professor of spirituality. So someone asked him for a definition of it, to tell us what "spirituality" is. I like what he said:

"Whatever you do with your dis-ease, that's your spirituality."

Everyone has a longing heart, a basic experience of incompleteness. We experience ourselves as what Johann Baptist Metz called a "transcendental neediness." Whatever you turn to in that experience, whether it be anxiety, depression, despair, drugs, sugar, video games, alcohol, overwork, abusing others, pornography, sitcoms, celebrity gossip, or maybe even prayer, self-sacrifice, caring for others, humor, or God, that's what's called your spirituality. Some are healthy, some are destructive, and most are some mix of both.

February 26, 2008

The Resurrection and the Bomb

Continuing in response to Ben in Denver's comments on my Transfiguration homily from the second Sunday in Lent, I have been thinking about the relationship between the Transfiguration/Resurrection and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which occurred on the feast of the Transfiguration in 1945.

As I've tried to think about it, I think there is an analogy between the Resurrection and the bomb. What is the Resurrection? It is God revealed in history. It is the glorious, immense, and benevolent power we clumsily call "God" revealed to us in Jesus Christ's victory over suffering and death. Most simply, the Resurrection is the fierce but gentle, intense but quiet power at the core of the everything having been made available to us.

It is in this sense that the atomic bomb--and this is how I make sense of Ben's calling it antichrist--is a kind of negative mirror image of the Resurrection, in that it is an unleashing of a hidden power at the core of creation, not for life, but for destruction and death.

But the power that runs amok in an atomic bombing is only that. It is scarcely imaginable, but it is only a power bounded by creation. The Resurrection, on the other hand, unleashes the hidden power at the core of everything that is, including God, and this is the hidden Desire for goodness, gentleness, and life that is the foundation of all that is. And that's why the Resurrection is more powerful than death, and certainly more powerful than the bomb.

February 25, 2008


Friend Ben in Denver raised some questions for reflection about the Lord's Transfiguration, coming out of the second Sunday of Lent. In my homily I made the point that the Transfiguration is a preview of the Resurrection, so Ben perceptively asks how it is also a preview of the coming of the Lord at the end of time. He also asks--and this is very interesting in other ways--how the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the feast of Transfiguration in 1945 are perhaps related to the revelation this feast commemorates. I've been thinking about these two things for a few days.

I would say that the Transfiguration is just as much a preview of the Resurrected Lord (as Jesus' first disciples would experience him) as it is of the Lord who will come again at the end of time. I say this because, in my best understanding, the Resurrection of the Lord we celebrate at Easter and the arrival of the Lord at the end of time are really the same thing. In the development of the understanding of the people of God--especially between the Testaments--the Resurrection was always an event that marked the end of time. Thus, when Jesus is Risen and the experience of him as risen encourages the disciples to gather together again and bravely proclaim his gospel, this is a sign that the end of time has, in a sense, already arrived. Recall the Lord's basic proclamation, "the Kingdom of God is at hand!"

The Resurrection is the "end"--in both the sense of terminus and the sense of purpose--of time, breaking backward into history, just as Jesus himself is the eternal Word of God breaking into history, time and space. The good news of the Resurrection is that this glorious and hopeful conclusion and goal of history is now present in Jesus Christ, and, as he promised, is drawing all things--and time itself--to himself.

I'll save the atomic bomb for the next post.

February 23, 2008

Consumerism, Desire, and Freedom

Jesus leads the Samaritan woman to the true desire of her heart, and to the freedom to accept him as the living water that satisfies every longing. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

February 19, 2008


Today I have a funeral for someone who was born when I was already almost in high school. In fact, it's my first funeral for someone younger than me. His siblings are younger than me, and his parents younger than mine. It's all so unnatural and out of place for someone so young to be dead. He was murdered.

Preparing for the funeral over the last couple of days has helped me to appreciate the tragedy of people killing each other more than ever before. We hear of murders every day in the news, but don't always see the intense hurt and meaninglessness that radiates out into the family, friends, and communities that held the victim in life.

We must all work and pray that a culture of the sanctity of life might well up anew in our world.

February 16, 2008

This Preview Approved for All Audiences

The Lord takes his inner circle of disciples up a mountain--the classic place of divine revelation--and is transfigured before them. The Transfiguration provides them with a preview of the Resurrection to come, a moment when the goal of history breaks backward into time for the encouragement and faith of all. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

February 15, 2008

Malaise Poll

Earlier this week I went to a meeting of local clergy, and it was about the most depressing thing ever. This is what people talk about when they say that the morale of the clergy is low, and that there is an endemic spiritual malaise in the priesthood. One priest tried to bring it up, without getting very far. There was a palpable disinterest in addressing the pressing questions of shrinking parishes and schools, whole generations missing from church attendance, and populations that are ignored in our pastoral practice. Even something that is supposed to be exciting, the coming pastoral visit of Benedict XVI , was treated more or less like just another hassle.

Now I have my own ideas about diagnosing the spiritual malaise of the Catholic clergy and religious life. But I never know if they are just my own pet concerns. So what do you think is at fault in the alleged low morale of the clergy, or for their spiritual malaise?

February 11, 2008

Mocking The devil

I almost cracked up at Mass yesterday when we started singing Michael Joncas's well-worn setting of psalm 91, "On Eagle's Wings." You know it from funerals if nothing else.

I found it funny because this is the psalm quoted by the devil in the Gospel:
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.

It's always good to remember that the devil is perfectly happy for have us quote scripture and behave religiously, as long as we do it his way. So maybe it's good that we sang the psalm he quoted in order to redeem it for ourselves.

February 9, 2008

Sin and Salvation

The Lord goes into the desert to be tempted by the devil, and his victory begins the re-capitulation and healing of the human story, saving us from sin and re-creating the world. My homily for the first Sunday of Lent is posted here.

February 6, 2008

Ashes and Irony

Another year has gone by and, as I begin my 16th Lent, I am still convinced that the whole ritual of Ash Wednesday is an act of irony. We proclaim the good news and then do the opposite on purpose, just to show that we haven't lived up to the Gospel. It's all in last year's post, so I won't write it out again like I just thought of it.

As Francis is said to have said, "let us begin again to do good, for up to now we have done little, or even nothing."

February 4, 2008

Smells Like Lent

Someone once told me that smell is the sense that most easily triggers associated memories. About the monastery this morning is the distinctive smell of the oily smoke of smoldering palms from last Passion Sunday, and immediately you know that Ash Wednesday is coming.

St. Blase

Of course yesterday was not the feast of St. Blase, because it was Sunday. But we offered the traditional blessing of throats anyway. I must have uttered these words a few hundred times yesterday:
Through the intercession of St. Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat, and from every other illness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This is a really popular thing; people were even coming at the end of Mass on purpose to get it. On the one hand, it seems strange; why should a little blessing on the throat (along with the arcana of the crossed candles) be such a big deal in comparison with, say, the communion with the inner life of Trinity we are offered in the Eucharist? I think that's why things like this annoy some clergy. On the other hand, somehow it really speaks to people.

Maybe we don't preach and teach enough on the mystery of illness in the Christian life. God knows that there are enough physically and mentally ill people out there to hear it. Perhaps it's because we are uncomfortable with the assertion that illness has something to do with the fallen state of the world. And that's a hard thing to manage pastorally; it's not that I'm sick right now because of my sins in particular, but it's because of the mystery of sin in the world that we suffer in our sickness. To someone (or ourselves!) who is already sick, not at their best, and perhaps worried about how they stand before the Lord, that can be a hard distinction to notice and embrace.

Certainly in a society that seems to be so manically bent on denying death and aging, we might do well to preach more on the mystery of illness.

February 2, 2008

Citizens of the Kingdom

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus proclaims a blessing on those who seek the Kingdom of God. Matthew's Beatitudes provide a challenging pattern for life in that Kingdom. My homily for this weekend is posted here.