Why we can’t settle for less

Because God himself made us for more!  As we start a new work week, you might find these words from St. John Paul the Great helpful:

“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness.  He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.  It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more man and more fraternal.”

Holy Father, we still love you and we miss you.  Pray for us!

Just Posted

This week’s reflections on parish culture: Parish Accounting!  (See, “Weekly Reflections,” above)

Also, this past Sunday’s homily on making all things new in Christ (See, “Homilies,” above)

What’s the Deal

Starting this week, check the “Weekly Reflections Page” (above) for ongoing columns about basics of parish life… Each column will present answers to commonly asked questions from parishioners.  Enjoy!

A few thoughts on Quirks of Holy Week

Thoughts today on three “quirks” of holy week people have recently asked me about:

epa04170481 Pope Francis as he performs the traditional washing of the feet at the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation in Rome, Italy, 17 April 2014, during the "In Coena Domini" Mass with the people hosted in the center and their families. EPA/OSSERVATORE ROMANO / HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Foot Washing 101: who gets washed?

Before the Last Supper, Jesus gave us a beautiful example of servant leadership by washing the feet of his Apostles and giving the command (“mandatum”) that we follow his example (Jn 13:1-17).  On Holy Thursday, most parishes recall this event in the rite of the washing of the feet, in which the Pastor of the parish washes the feet of 12 people.  There’s been no shortage of comment on this rite over the last fifty-or-so years, mainly about whose feet ought to be washed.  Until recently, liturgical law said that twelve men (viri, as opposed to homines “people”) were to have their feet washed.  Pope Francis, in a beautiful exercise of his Petrine Office has adjusted procedure so that a group of twelve people representative of the People of God should be called forward.  This brings the letter of the law in line with the practice already widely in use throughout the Church in Europe and the Americas.  I’ve heard some hail this tweak as a “triumph of the modern” (yes, the person actually used that phrase)… or a “real win for women.”  Both claims betray a lack of knowledge about the true history of this rite and a very western mindset.  What Pope Francis has done is to tap into a much more ancient tradition of this lovely rite.

For most of the Church’s history, the washing of the feet was a rite carried out separate from Mass and only in religious communities (of men and of women).  At some point on Holy Thursday, the Abbot of a monastery or the Mother Superior of a convent would, usually in the chapter hall, not the chapel, wash the feet of the other monks/nuns in the community.  The rite never occurred in parishes or cathedrals.  It wasn’t until the twentieth century that Pope Pius XII gave the option of joining this rite to the mass.  Aware that this link to the Lord’s Supper Mass  would suggest those being washed were “apostles,” the Pope specified that men be chosen.

This year’s adjustment maintains the linking of the rite to the mass as an option, and likewise gives Pastors the option to invite whomever they think represents the community.  Cardinal Sarah, Pope Francis’ chief assistant in matters of worship, and the author of his decree clarified these options aware that the Church has many cultural expressions.  The renewed policy needs to be flexible enough to respect them all.

As with so many beautiful parts of our Catholic Tradition, Pope Francis’ adjustment to the rite is a dusting off of ancient practice adjusted to meet contemporary needs.  In any given parish, no matter whose feet are washed, in whatever context the rite may take place, our focus should never be on lording participation in this rite over anyone (cf Mt 20:25).  Rather we should focus on the suffering servant Lord whose quiet humility is an example to us all (cf Is 42:1-4).

Do we have to go to all of triduum (Thur., Fri., Sat.)?  Yes… here’s why:

The celebration of the Sacred Triduum (From the Latin Tri-diem, “Three Days”) is the height of the Church’s year.  Note however, it’s in the singular… one celebration, not three.  I’m not just speaking collectively… it is actually one mega-mass!  We begin “In the name of the father…” on Holy Thursday… but there’s no final blessing at the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  On Friday we enter the Church in silence and pick right back up again with an opening prayer… but note, the priest doesn’t even say “Let us pray” … we already did that on Thursday.  Only on Easter Vigil crossing the threshold of Easter itself do we finally have a concluding prayer and blessing!  Be sure to come to all three portions  of the one celebration of the Triduum… it’ll be a soul-moving life-changing experience.

Why so much?

Holy Week is extravagant, no doubt about it.  It is, literally, the epitome of Catholic worship for from these events spring the whole of our religious practice.  A parishioner asked me once, “Why so much? Aren’t there more practical ways to spend our time, talent and treasure?”  At Bethany (Jn 12:1-11), Mary was so overjoyed by Jesus’ love (which had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead) that as a ‘thank you’ she poured a year’s worth of costly oil over his feet to anoint them, drying them with her hair.  This extravagance, this total self-gift, expressed bodily in action… this is the only fitting human response to God’s love.  It doesn’t negate our obligations to the practicalities of life (i.e. maintaining our physical plant or serving the poor), but rather it crowns them.  As Catholics our practical works should only ever spring from our worship and then find fulfillment in our worship.  If they don’t we have to ask ourselves why we’re engaged in them.

The Fruits of Enlightenment: Joy and Perseverance

Raphael, "Transfiguration"
Raphael, “Transfiguration”

This past week offered opportunities to reflect on the Lenten Grace of Enlightenment (see posts below and weekly reflections page).  This week, we continue something of that theme, reflecting on some of the fruits of enlightenment: joy and perseverance/obedience.

This Sunday’s Gospel recounts the story of the Transfiguration (Lk. 9:28-36).  It’s a moment of enlightenment, whose fruits are certainly joy and perseverance.  If we back up just a bit, we find that before taking Peter, James and John up Mt. Tabor to pray, Jesus reveals to the twelve that: (a) he will have to die in Jerusalem, and (b) that they will have to one day take up their own crosses if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven (Lk. 9:22-28).  The Apostles who have “left everything” to follow Christ were – naturally – upset and anxious at this news.  Jesus takes Peter James and John up the mountain and reveals a fuller picture of himself… Transfigured, he enlightens them with the vision of his divine nature.  The experience gives them the joy they need to keep going, to persevere in obedience to their call.

Abraham, likewise, receives a message from the Lord, not to be afraid of his new mission because one day God would make his descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky (Gen. 15:5-18).  This is the encouragement he needs to break away from this native country and lead his people across uncharted deserts to the Promised Land.  Joy leads to perseverance.

The two concepts are linked in a necessary sort of way.  “Obedience,” from he latin, “ab audire” means, “it flows from the hearing.”  If we would obey our call, we need to hear all sides of it first.  We need to hear the command, “do good not evil,”  but we also need to hear the delight of our Father saying to us first, “I love you.”  “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  The practice of faith and virtue (see Ash Wednesday post below), at first a rote sort of a thing becomes enlivened by joy over the Father’s love.  Faith and virtue are warmed by enlightenment, maturing from rote exercise into a habit of loving self-gift.

St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr
St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr

In this regard, our great example is St. Agnes.  Agnes was a Roman virgin who loved Christ.  She was completely animated by the idea of being espoused to Jesus and Jesus alone in heaven.  It made her into a joyous Christian, a young woman of grace and virtue.  Arrested for her faith, Agnes was martyred in the last of the Roman Imperial persecutions in 304.  She heard the voice of Jesus affirming her as beloved.  She rejoiced and practiced her faith… and that joy allowed her to persevere in the faith until she offered the ultimate witness, the ultimate self-gift for the sake of faith, her own death.

As we enter the second week of Lent, we might ask, “What kinds of enlightenment has the Lord given me?”  “What are my transfiguration moments?”  “How have they moved me with joy?”  “Do I connect them with my self-giving? …and if I have not, how can I do so this Lent?”

On the airwaves with “Morning Glory”


Dear Readers – Check out the following link    ewtnmorningglory.com 

For a great new morning radio show, “Morning Glory” on the EWTN global radio network.

For those who don’t know, EWTN is the Eternal Word Television Network, begun by Mother Angelica, a Catholic Nun.  The Network had humble beginnings but has grown by leaps and bounds to bring eyes and ears of faith to the airwaves.  By way of witness: I wasn’t always a fan of EWTN.  As a kid I thought “Church TV” was about as lame as you could get.  Over time though, my own tastes, my own media needs, and the quality of the programming all grew.  I’m a big fan of the contribution that this great team of people are making to faith-filled culture.  I hope  you’ll consider checking out this  Friday’s (9/11/15) radio show using the link above and tune in regularly for all the good material they’re broadcasting from right here in Washington, DC!

The Golden Calf… it keeps coming back

A favorite of mine from "Farside"
A favorite of mine from “Farside”

When Moses came down Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments he was surprised to discover his people worshipping God in the form of a golden calf.  They weren’t worshipping a false god (lower case “g”).  Traditional readings of this scene tell us that the Jewish people had not abandoned the Lord… but they were in a hard place and had a hard time conceiving of how they could relate to their  shapeless God.  So the people, in an act of desperation, in the shaking of their faith made a golden calf, a containable image of God.  At its best this was the people’s attempt to more easily perceive the living God.  At its worst, this was the people making the living God into something they could manipulate. In all cases, God “contained” in a human creation is an oxymoron.  Compassion for the people’s situation doesn’t change this reality.


In a recent letter (12 June 2015) on the nature of Catholic worship, Cardinal Robert Sarah (Prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Sacraments a.k.a. protector and promoter of the Church’s worship practices) raised a concern about contemporary worship: “We run the real risk of leaving no room for God in our celebrations, falling into the temptation of the Israelites in the desert.  They sought to create a cult of worship limited to their own measure and reach…”  Hence, all too often, the criteria for our public worship is, “Wouldn’t that be nice?”  or “Wouldn’t it be popular if…?”  or “People would like mass more if…”

NOTE: This post is NOT about liturgy, but Cardinal Sarah’s comments and the experience of the Jews teaches us an important lesson about life with the living God – It’s not always easy, and earthly comfort is not the primary goal.

Speaking with someone today about the jailing of Kim Davis I was told, quite firmly, that the Supreme Court’s recent rulings about same-sex marriage represented the definitive end of all conversation and Ms. Davis should’ve quit her job rather than disobey in protest of the law… End of discussion.  The truth was to be neatly boxed in a space just large enough for the comfort of society at this particular moment in history… A new golden calf.  But Truth… and Truth’s author, the living God cannot be contained like that, not even by the highest court of the Land.  The Court once ruled that “separate, but equal” was legal.  Did that make it true?  The Constitution once determined, by popular vote of the Convention no less, that slavery was (a) legal and (b) that slaves = 3/5 of a person.  Did the legality of those laws make them True?  No.  The truth cannot be manipulated by human beings… only discerned and appreciated.  Furthermore that discernment is something that should be always ongoing.  For even the most certain truths will only be known fully in heaven.  Indeed, the great philosopher Josef Pieper described the virtue of hope precisely as the constant state of our lives as “in via,” always on the way, never content to stop and settle for where we’re at.  One could saythen that to abandon the discernment of truth, to box up God is to limit or even smother hope.

Such ongoing discernment necessitates a degree of discomfort… call it our sacrifice in honor of the Truth.  It also necessitates ongoing, open, honest, and NON-violent dialog.  Such discourse shows respect for everyone on all sides… and above all shows our mutual respect for Truth… but it’s not easy and its rarely comfortable.  A great book on this subject is Ratzinger’s Truth and Tolerance   I highly recommend it.  I also recommend a re-reading of the St. John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor and of course, the Catechism.    Interestingly, the Church does not command the faithful to unflinchingly assent to all her teachings… Rather she invites Catholics to an ongoing exploration of Truth marked by the humility of simply saying, “I might not know everything at this point in my life.”

Building the golden calf was all too easy… Living in a dynamic, developing relationship with our Father is tougher… but ultimately more satisfying.  Let’s keep the conversation going.  Peace.

Screen on the Green and a Little Elegance


Talking with some parishioners after mass yesterday, I learned about several “Screens on the Green” – outdoor film initiatives here in DC (for more info, check out this LINK).  What really excited me was not the possibility of strolling over to Lincoln Park to see Casino Royale (July 16)… No what really enthralled me about this young couple was   their excitement about going to see the film together… and with a touch of elegance.  They were planning out their picnic, looking forward to selecting some meats, cheeses and maybe even a little vino to compliment the evening.  It reminded me of a line from Hello Dolly, “We’ve got elegance.  If you aint’ got elegance, you can never hope to carry it off.”

Elegance has very little to do with living in a ritzy manner, per se.  It’s more about acting on our best impulses.  The concept goes back to the Greek understanding of beauty, “kalon.”  For the Athenians, the beauty of nature was characterized by kalon or “elegant order.”  So when human beings live elegantly, it means that we bring a certain degree of purposeful order to bear upon a given activity.  Put another way – as St. Thomas Aquinas might say – “virtue is in the action… the living-out of the idea.”


These two young adults, planning their movie-night were so excited to DO something about their love for each other… their commitment became manifest in a plan that they are actually going to carry out and live… and that dear friends, is very elegant.  It’s not so much about whether you’re buying a bottle of wine or a six-pack of diet coke… It’s about carrying out our desires to live as the best version of ourselves.

If we take our meditation a step (maybe a small leap) farther, we find that this concept of the elegant even touches on the sacraments.  Christ left us things to do and to do beautifully as the most clear living-out of his life among us.  Thats why parishes where sacraments are well celebrated are so much more satisfying than places where they are not… because the community sees itself doing something about realizing its highest aspirations.  Just as a girl might reasonably question a boy, “If you love me so much why didn’t you bring me flowers?  Why didn’t you do something about it?”  Christ will ask us, “Did you care for my little ones?  [c.f. Mt 25] Did  you celebrate the sacraments I left you when I said, ‘Do this in memory of me.’?  And did you do it in a slipshod or an elegant manner?” [c.f. Mk 14:15]  …just something to consider.