David the Shepherd Warrior Died in His Bed


After King David slew Goliath (1 Samuel 17), he did not get killed in his next battle (1 Samuel 18:14).


Can any of us football fans ever forget the thrill of February 3, 2008?  Goliath fell, hit by a rock from a little sling.


We Redskins fans should not, therefore, expect two miracles in a row in New York Giants’ games.  Let us resolve to be happy if the season opener Thursday evening is a solid effort.


Dan Snyder beat Senator McCain to the punch by eight months:  The Redskins owner made a bold move that looks toward a beautiful long-term future before the Republican nominee ever thought of any governor of Alaska.  Our beloved owner deserves credit for this, loathe as anyone is to give him credit for anything.


Let us hope that Coach Zorn fulfills the promise.  Even though I have no idea what I am talking about (like many football fans), allow me to opine on the art of coaching:  In the end, being a successful coach is a matter of bigness and nobility of character.  Everybody has the “science” of football; spiritual leadership is what makes the difference.  (Talented players, of course, do not hurt–but there are plenty of talented Redskins.)  If Jim Zorn is half as big a man as Joe Gibbs is, if he can be half the spiritual leader Joe Gibbs was, then the future is very bright.  If not…well, it is not a pretty scenario.


If you are reading, coach, here is some advice from someone who certainly has no right to offer any.  Meditate on this moment from last season:  The Patriots had just shellacked the Redskins.  It was an embarrassment of historic proportions.  As everyone left the field, reporters hounded the head coach for a comment:  “Who’s to blame?”  At one of the lowest moments of his life, at a moment when most men would grasp at every straw in the cup to find someone or something else to complain about, Joe Gibbs calmly said, “There is plenty of blame to go around, but it begins with me.”




















Take Up Your Cross




Since Archbishop Wuerl wrote to us priests and asked us to make his points about Church teaching on abortion in our homilies this morning, I never got to give the homily I had prepared for today.  So here it is—a “web exclusive.”



You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
  Jeremiah 20:7


The prophet Jeremiah cries out his complaint to the Lord, and then resigns himself to his fate.  At the time when Jeremiah was called to prophesy, the people of the kingdom of Judah had fallen so far into paganism that they had taken up the practice of sacrificing children to Baal.  The Lord ordered Jeremiah to speak out and condemn this.  Jeremiah was to prophesy that the people’s apostasy and evil would cause them to lose their homeland and be taken away in exile.


Jeremiah made his resigned complaint after the High Priest of the Temple struck him and ordered him put in the stocks because the prophet declared that doom would befall Jerusalem.


Jeremiah was not naturally inclined to make trouble; he was no grandstander.  He would have preferred a quiet life.  But the Lord compelled him to speak the truth and warn the people about the coming wrath.  Even though obeying the divine summons cost him abuse, imprisonment, and exile, Jeremiah wistfully acknowledged to the Lord that he could not help but obey Him.  There is nothing sweeter, in fact, than to suffer for the Lord by bearing unflinching witness to the divine truth of Revelation.


Then Jesus said to his disciples,“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.”
  Matthew 16:24


This verse comes shortly after the verses we read at Holy Mass last week ( https://frmarkdwhite.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/caesarea-philippi/ ).  When the Lord told them to take up their crosses, His disciples were still with Him at the foot of Mt. Hermon.  As we recall, St. Peter had just declared the truth about Christ for the first time:  You are the Son of God.  You are divine.  This is what has been revealed to us:  Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal truth. He is the Lord of heaven Who compelled the prophets to speak.  Christ is the Holy One of Israel for Whom Jeremiah freely chose to suffer.


So St. Peter had declared the Catholic faith for the first time ever.  You might think the Lord Jesus would have patted him on the back, and then they might have spent some time basking in the moment.


Instead, Christ declared:  I, the Almighty Master of all things, I will bend my neck beneath the yoke of suffering and give myself over into the hands of my enemies.  I, the immortal One, will suffer and die.  This is my destiny; this is my mission.  And it is not to end in disaster, but in the triumph of life over death.


Let us try to put ourselves in the place of the disciples who first heard Christ tell them that in order to follow Him, they must take up their crosses.  Now, two millennia later, we know that the cross is the symbol of the perfect sacrifice of atonement offered by the Son of God.  We know that it is the symbol of our Redemption and eternal life.


For the original disciples, however, the cross was only a perverse instrument of torture used by their foreign overlords to make a public example of anyone who dared try to stand up against them.  No fate could be worse, in the mind of any Jew, than to be condemned to crucifixion and be driven by Roman centurions through the streets with whips, dragging your hundred-twenty-five-pound cross along with you pathetically on your shoulder.  Then you would spend two or three agonizing days hanging by your arms, with birds picking at you.


This is the metaphor that God incarnate used to describe what it was like to be His disciple.  Even the prophet Jeremiah might have quailed at this.


The crucial phrase in the Lord Jesus’ words, however, is:  “and follow me.”  God Himself has walked the way of the cross ahead of us, and He has risen again from the dead.  From heaven, He pours out His graces on us so that we can accept His invitation and become His disciples.


What are the crosses we have to take up in order to follow the Lord?  Each of us has his or her own.  Our crosses are formed by two beams.  The one beam is reality and the truth:  the law of God, the duties we have.  The other beam is our own smallness, selfishness, weakness, and fear.


It would be easy to imitate the virtues of Christ if we weren’t sinners; it would be easy to be humble, gentle, kind, chaste, courageous, and unswervingly faithful and honest.  Our crosses would be weightless if we weren’t so miserably inclined to run away from reality and the mission the Lord has given each of us to accomplish.


Let us resign ourselves like Jeremiah.  Living in the truth is an agony of self-purification and self-denial.  The truth makes demands of us.  But what else are we going to do?  God is God.  His grace is sufficient; His grace will be our strength.  If we lose our lives for His sake, we will find life.  And when He comes again in glory, we will shine like the stars in the sky.


Pray that Hurricaine Gustav will Turn out to Sea







        Our Lady of Prompt Succor, ever Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God, you are most powerful against the enemy of our salvation. The divine promise of a Redeemer was announced right after the sin of our first parents; and you, through your Divine Son, crushed the serpent’s head. Hasten, then, to our help and deliver us from the deceits of Satan. Intercede for us with Jesus that we may always accept God’s graces and be found faithful to Him in our particular states of life. As you once saved our beloved City from ravaging flames and our Country from an invading army, have pity on us and obtain for us protection from hurricanes and all other disasters. (silent pause for individual petitions). Assist us in the many trials which beset our path through life. Watch over the Church and the Pope as they uphold with total fidelity the purity of faith and morals against unremitting opposition. Be to us truly Our Lady of Prompt Succor now and especially at the hour of our death, that we may gain everlasting life through the merits of Jesus Christ Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen. Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us. (Three times)


Archbishop Wuerl’s Points





Here are the points which Archbishop Wuerl asked all of us priests to make in our homilies at Holy Mass today.

1.  The Pope together with the bishops speak for the faith of the Catholic Church.  “For a Catholic, there are sure answers to life’s great questions.  Jesus offers them.  His Church proclaims them.  The bishops in their teaching office explain them.”  A well-formed conscience is our sure guide in making decisions.  A “well-formed conscience” is explained here:  http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt3sect1chpt1art6.shtml

In the controversy about the morality of abortion, not all opinions have equal weight.  “Christ established in His Church the office of bishop charged with teaching and guarding the authentic faith.”

2.  Abortion is a great moral evil.  The Church has always taught that abortion is gravely immoral.

3.  Empirical evidence obtained by scientific investigation clearly indicates that human life begins at conception.  From the moment the sperm meets the egg, a member of the human race lives.  This is why not only abortion, but also embryonic stem-cell research (which involves killing the embryo), are gravely evil:  They involve the destruction of an innocent human life.

Not Above My Pay Grade





In the U.S. Congress, the Speaker of the House must have a higher salary than a junior Senator.  The Speaker undertook to catechize the country ( http://www.catholicexchange.com/2008/08/26/113593/ ) on a question which the democratic nominee asked for more money before he would give an answer (http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20080818/pl_politico/12602 ).


Archbishop Wuerl has written to us priests, asking us to explain Church teaching on abortion at the Holy Mass this Sunday.  It is pretty unusual for him to tell us what to preach on.


I thought it might be illuminating to try to break the matter down into discrete kinds of questions, so that we can see what is certain and what is not certain.  There are two distinct kinds of questions involved.  The first kind aim at things that exist; the second kind aim at the right thing to do.


When precisely did each of our lives begin?  When did our souls come into existence?  When we were in our mothers’ wombs, what happened?  None of these are questions about what we ought to do or not to do.  Some people might say these questions are just idle curiosity, needless philosophizing.  They are speculative questions.  They are not for everybody; most people do not worry about trying to answer speculative questions of this kind.


One reason for the unpopularity of these questions is:  Getting an irrefutable answer to any profound speculative question is very difficult.  “Is my dog asleep right now or awake?” is a speculative question; it can be answered just by looking at the dog.  But “When does the human soul come into being?” is not so easy.


As Cardinal Egan and other Catholic leaders have pointed out since Speaker Pelosi’s confusing catechesis last Sunday, we have recently developed remarkable means by which to observe pregnancies.  We can now see pretty well what is going on, and we can analyze the biological processes with great precision.  All this gives us a clear answer to the following question (a question which perplexed people for many centuries):  Is there a stage in the process of development when the guest of the womb changes from one kind of thing into another kind of thing, from an inanimate type of thing to an animate type of thing?  Or:  Is there a moment we can pinpoint when what does not appear to have been human now becomes human?  The clear answer to these questions is:  No.  No such moment has ever been discovered.  It would seem highly unlikely that it ever will be.


Still we have not touched the question of the soul, nor have we considered what ought to be done or not done.


Souls are invisible.  Sonograms and other studies show us that what began as one cell eventually grows into a recognizable baby.  Something makes this happen, some organizing power that keeps all the molecules from separating from each other into some kind of soup.


Speculative questions like this are endlessly interesting, so it is rather presumptuous for anyone to claim that he or she has the final answer.  The Church does not settle speculative questions.  When needed, She settles questions regarding what we believe and what we are to do or not do.


Sacred Scripture teaches us to believe that God has a plan for everyone to get to heaven, and that plan begins in the womb.  God loves the occupant of the womb, and He will always provide for him or her.  We believe this with certain faith.  There is no doubt about it.


Now let us get to the practical questions.  Should any pregnant woman ever have an abortion?  Should anyone ever perform an abortion, or co-operate with an abortion in any way?  When Rick Warren asked about when an unborn child acquires human rights, this was a somewhat convoluted way of leaving the speculative realm behind and transferring the debate to the moral realm.  Someone who has rights cannot be killed.  So Rick Warren’s Saddleback Forum debate question really was:  Must the law prohibit abortion?


Moral questions have to do with what you or I do or don’t do.  Unborn children die in their mothers’ wombs all the time in miscarriages, but a miscarriage is not a moral matter; it didn’t result from what someone did or didn’t do.  Moral questions are confined to you and me and what we choose.


Answering moral questions is generally easier than answering speculative questions, especially when the speculative questions involve invisible realities.  Moral questions require moral certitude, because we either act or we don’t; we either do something or we don’t do it.  For me to do something, I have to be sure that it is not gravely evil for me to do it.  For the law to permit something, the legislator must be sure that it is not the slaughter of innocents.  There is no doubt that it is morally wrong to take risks when it comes to the life or death of innocent people.


Moral questions are not beyond us, like some speculative questions are.  We can always know what to do or not to do, either by reasoning things out carefully from basic principles like the Ten Commandments, or by submitting to the authority of the Church.  We do not have to know everything about the situation; we only have to know what to do or avoid.


In the case of the moral questions here, there is no doubt whatsoever.  It is never okay to have an abortion.  It is never okay to co-operate in an abortion.  It is never okay for the law to permit abortion.

Spiritual Reading Suggestion



This is my seventh semester taking one class at the Dominican House of Studies, trying to make my way towards a degree that would qualify me to teach in a seminary.  This morning my class for this semester met for the first time, and I had the experience I always do:  The syllabus is overwhelming and intimidating.  I wish that I had the time and energy to do all the reading, but I know that I will only be able to eke out a fraction of it and try to do enough to get by in the class.


Today is also the day we remember at Holy Mass the greatest teacher in the history of the Church, St. Augustine.  If you are looking for a good book for spiritual reading, order The Essential Sermons of St. Augustine.  It is published by New City Press. They definitely have it on Barnes and Noble; I imagine they have it on all the book websites.  It was published just about a year ago.


I am not enough of a Latin scholar to comment knowledgeably about translations, but I know enough to say that this translation is something special.  It is not just readable; it offers a delightful insight into St. Augustine’s incredibly knowledgeable and loving mind.

The Joy of Cereal



One of the greatest sensory pleasures of my life is a nice bowl of Raisin Bran right after Mass in the morning.  I am a whole milk man, though I can live with any kind of milk, provided it is very cold.  If there is no milk in the fridge, I have even been known to mix half-and-half with cold water in a glass and stir it to produce ersatz milk.


Whole milk is thoroughly to be preferred, however.  The world can be divided between the milk tribes.  The skim-milk tribe will disdain forever the milkshakes consumed by the whole-milk tribe.  We whole-milkers will always be disgusted by the white water of the skimmies.  The 2% people are wishy-washy.  (We all know they really want to drink whole.)  Don’t even talk to me about 1%.


The all-important thing about a bowl of cereal is timing and technique.  The milk must be poured in at the right moment, not a second before it is time to sit down.  Now the clock is ticking….No need to panic, but any interruption or delay could be disastrous.


Tamp the flakes down with the back of the spoon.  Getting them moist will take a few ticks of the clock.  Do not rush in.  As we noted, timing is everything; patience is necessary.  This is not shoveling dry flakes into your tender mouth—it would be better to eat sand or rocks.  Cereal is not trail mix.  It is a delicious cold bowl of heaven, with just enough sugar on the raisins to sweeten the milk a little bit.


But do not delay too much!  Sogginess can zoom in like a Luftwaffe jet buzzing a Polish town.  When the tamping makes the gentle sound of metal on moist flake, commence eating.  Brook no interruptions!!  Ignore the telephone or the doorbell; don’t get too engulfed in the newspaper.  If an article proves overly interesting, it is best to turn the page and move on—too much distraction will lead to irreparable soggification of the flakes!  Better to come back to fascinating articles later.  Right now it is time for pure cold cereal joy.


Tie Goes to the Winner







In my earlier posts about the Olympics, there was one controversy about which I neglected to opine.  In the women’s gymnastics uneven-bars competition, Nastia Liukin of the USA and He Kexin of China wound up with the exact same score.  NBC announcer Tim Daggett then declared:  “The computer applies its system to break the tie and He gets the gold and Nastia gets the silver.”


All of female America (and the part of male America that was watching) were outraged at this apparently arbitrary and unfair resolution, imposed by the fiat of a computer.


Now, I am far from being a gymnast of any kind, so I don’t really have standing to comment here, but I would like to offer my layman’s observations.  First of all, let’s note that Liukin certainly didn’t deserve the uneven bars gold more than He Kexin—their scores were exactly the same.


The American sportscasting powers-that-be generally insisted that the tie-breaking formula applied by the computer was unnecessary:  Just give two gold medals like they used to do when there were ties in gymnastics at the Olympics.


If I were one of the gymnasts involved in a tie, the two-golds solution would not satisfy me at all.  You either win the gold or you don’t.  Sure, the record books and your bragging rights would have you down as a gold medalist, but always lurking in the back of your mind would be the whisper:  “Yeah, but it was a tie.”


So that leaves us with the need for a tie-breaker of some kind, and this is much more easily said than done.  There would seem to be no way to have a fair “overtime” in gymnastics.  All you could do was to compete the event again, and that’s not a tie-breaker, it’s a re-do.


Given this fact, a careful examination of what the computer actually did do reveals it to be just about the least arbitrary resolution possible.  The gymnasts’ scores come from a panel of judges from different countries.  The errors and/or favoritism of the individual judges is countered by the removal of the highest and lowest scores.  To break a tie when need be, the computer automatically extended the same principle of removing individual bias by averaging the deductions of the remaining judges.  The gymnast with the lower average deduction wins.  It is all pretty darn reasonable, as tie-breaking systems go.


Of course, there is the greater truth that whining about coming in second (or losing) is never a good idea.  To her great credit, Liukin never whined at all.  (So far as I know.)  The rules are the rules, as she herself acknowledged.  Everyone knew the rules going in.  No ties.  The computer breaks ties according to a formula.  Arbitrary?  Maybe.


The even greater truth is that in this life, all judgments contain an element of arbitrariness.  Only the judgment of God is perfectly fair.  All other judgments—of gymnastics judges, or anyone else, you and me included—all human judgments are subject to further review.  They will be thoroughly reviewed and adjudicated fairly…when the Man comes around.


Corporal Punishment for Bad Priests



Back in the winter of 2004, when I was still a newly ordained priest, I asked my pastor if I could offer an “adult forum” on sexual abuse by priests.  It had been two years since the Boston Globe had investigated and exposed the abominable shamblings of the Archdiocesan authorities there.  As we recall, this managed to work practically everyone in the United States up into a state of righteous outrage over the fact that a priest could do such terrible things and basically get away with it, and then do it over and over again.  I, too, was moved with rage and disgust.


I tried to put myself in the place of an ecclesiastical authority who had learned that one of his charges had sexually abused a minor.  I came to a conclusion about what I would do, and I waited for someone to propose such a solution, but no one ever did.


I did not offer my proposal at the time.  I had ministered as a deacon and then as a priest through the heat of the national outrage, and with just about every journalist, bishop, and armchair ecclesiastical authority talking about nothing but sexual abuse by priests for all of 2002 and most of 2003, I figured I could just stick to announcing the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith.


But in the winter of 2004, the heated and widespread discussion of the subject had died down, so I resolved to ask the pastor if I could offer a “forum.”  The idea was to clarify facts, propose theological teaching about the Church (an institution both human and divine) and offer to address any questions.  My hope was to help the people “put things back together,” so to speak.


My pastor was brave enough to allow me to do this, and everything went fine.  The one unsolved argument was over the question of why a priest who had sexually abused a minor could not be made back into a layman, so that Holy Orders would not be besmirched by his continuing to be in them.  I tried to emphasize that a priest who abuses a minor should be and would be denied any further opportunity to minister as a priest, but that God Himself makes a man a priest by permanently marking his soul, and no human power can unmark him.


This was a pointless distinction for me to make (even though it is true), and it only made everyone mad.  I could sympathize.  It took me back to my original idea about what ought to be done when Church authority concludes that a priest is guilty of abusing a minor.


The fact is that when someone does something really bad, we are not satisfied unless there is retributive justice.  It is not enough to take steps to ensure that the offense is not repeated—though obviously that needs to be done.  When someone commits a terrible crime, the harmony of the world is disturbed, and only a fitting punishment can restore order.


The law of the state can and must punish a priest like any other sex offender with proportionate jail time.  But those of us who think of a priest as someone called to a higher standard than other men (it seems like just about everyone in America thinks this)—we long for a fitting punishment by the Church Herself, a punishment delivered over and above the boom that the state lowers.  Such a punishment is necessary in order to restore the order of justice within the human institution of the Church.


Ecclesiastical authority cannot erase the priesthood from a priest’s soul.  It wouldn’t serve the cause of severity in punishment even if it could:  God will certainly be more severe in condemning an impenitent wicked priest than he would a layman who had committed the same crimes.


So what should ecclesiastical authority do?  If I were a bishop or religious superior who judged after careful investigation that one of my priests had abused a minor, I hope and pray that I would be man enough to call the priest into my office and beat him up right then and there, before I turned him over to the police.


The beat down would involve a barrage of punches to the stomach, chest, and shoulders, raining pain down on the criminal, without breaking anything or hitting him in the head or below the belt.  What happened to Fr. Shanley—killed by another inmate after being incarcerated for sexual abuse of children—is wrong; I am not talking about a vigilante execution.  I am talking about the controlled corporal punishment of an adult.  (I am not opining about the corporal punishment of children; I will leave that to parents.)


I haven’t been in a fistfight since I was coming up on 14 and my brother was 12 and he beat me up because I mercilessly mocked the Washington Capitals for choking in the Stanley Cup Finals.  I am not exactly a bruiser.  But I am 6′ 3″ and broad-shouldered, and I do my pushups just about every day.  I am ready and willing to administer these beat-downs.  I would be glad to be called into to administer them if the bishop judged himself to be physically incompetent to do so.


The Code of Canon Law prohibits striking a cleric under penalty of excommunication, but I think that in this case another cleric could administer corporal punishment on a brother without violating the spirit of this law, just like the state can execute a criminal without violating the Fifth Commandment.  (I will come back to substantiate this assertion—I promise.)


The thing here is that I am not kidding.  If every bishop who received an allegation had investigated it, and if he had, finding a priest guilty, administered a beat-down before turning the priest over to the police—if this had happened, there would be no scandal, and there would have been a great deal fewer crimes of this kind committed by priests.


I am ready to come to the Pastoral Center to do what needs to be done, if necessary.  (Please God that it would never be necessary in our humble Archdiocese.)