#2 on the List

cathedrale fermee
Screenshot from the French masstimes.com website

Zeal for your house consumes me. (Psalm 69:10)

Buildings that house the celebration of Holy Mass and serve as repositories of the Christian faith. We have such buildings in our towns and cities, thanks be to God. Let’s make a list of the most-venerable such buildings on earth…

1. St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome


My first reaction on Monday afternoon: Rage. How do you manage to burn down Notre Dame Cathedral by accident?

But it can happen. They accidentally burned down St. Paul Outside the Walls, in Rome, in 1823. Damage far more severe than what Notre Dame suffered in Monday’s fire. They re-built, and the basilica that houses the tomb of St. Paul re-opened, just as it stood before the fire, thirty-two years later, in 1855.

Second Monday-afternoon reaction: Utter heartbreak.

Lyon has the most-ancient cathedra in France. But Paris has had one for a long, long time. The city became Christian with the martyrdom of St. Denis, during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

For perspective: We live in one of the oldest dioceses in the U.S. Barry Knestout sits as the thirteenth bishop. The current Archbishop of Paris sits as the 141st.

St. Louis, Missouri, got its name from King Louis IX of France, who brought our Lord’s crown of thorns to Paris during the century of Notre Dame’s original construction. St. Thomas Aquinas taught in Paris then, and prayed in the cathedral while work was underway.

St Thomas Seat of Wisdom

They had a beautiful painting of St. Thomas hanging in Notre Dame on Monday. Right now it’s at the Louvre, with the curators trying to save it from water damage.

In prior centuries, Protestants smashed statues, and the republican revolutionaries desecrated Notre Dame and dedicated it to a false god. The church survived.

People went to Mass there this past Sunday and Monday. One of our families in Rocky Mount took a trip to Paris just a couple months ago, and went to Mass at Notre Dame.

Zeal for your house consumes me. Now we have the most-sacred ceremonies of the year to celebrate, brothers and sisters. And we have a roof over our heads to celebrate them under. May God be praised.

I don’t think we have even really begun to fathom the depth of the wound done to our souls by Monday’s fire on the Seine. I, for one, am still in a state of shock–with dreams of an empty cathedral with no roof, and everything broken, haunting my sleep. And I was only in that building once, and that was almost seventeen years ago.

So the wound is deep. But a mortal wound it is not. Paris may yet have another 141 archbishops, or more–before the Church’s march through time finally ends, and the eternal Easter begins.

Notre Dame Cathedral gave birth to many wonderful, beautiful things—and she will give birth to more. May our humble parish churches strive for that kind of fruitfulness, too—here in our little Parises on the Smith and on the Pigg.

Good News


Thank you, dear reader, for praying. The judge ruled to keep the family together, here in the United States. Praise the Lord!

…You may remember that we had a theme for Passiontide last year: The failure of faith involved in the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of Jesus for blasphemy.

This year, let’s focus on one aspect of Abraham’s faith. We and the Sanhedrin have failed to believe something, and this lack of faith caused Christ’s Passion. But, of course, God brought great good out of that evil.

Abraham simultaneously believed that God would give him countless progeny through his son Isaac, and that God demanded Isaac as a sacrifice.

Either Abraham was utterly irrational, or he reasoned that… [Hint: Hebrews 11:19]

Say Some Prayers, Please

Crystal City immigration court
Immigration Court building, Crystal City, Virginia

Tomorrow will find your unworthy servant in a courtroom, along with a score of my beloved people.

One of them faces possible deportation. But tomorrow’s hearing could put him on a path to full American citizenship.

The rest of us will testify, one after another. We will explain a. our dear friend’s exemplary character, and b. the extreme hardship that his family will face if the government separates them.

Please pray for a good outcome! Thank you!

The New Donald Wuerl

mccarrick and wilton gregory

Archbishop of Atlanta to be transferred to: Archbishop of Washington.

Seems like a demotion. Fewer Catholics in Washington than in Atlanta. Fewer parishes. The Metropolitan of Atlanta exercises vigilance over three entire states–Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina; the Metropolitan of Washington, D.C., presides over part of one state, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

But for whatever reason, the ecclesiastical mafia will view Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s transfer as a promotion. Meanwhile, blind Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington, or those who listen only to the radio or to podcasts, will not notice any change, from the old Archbishop to the new one.

I re-read Archbishop Gregory’s statement regarding Theodore McCarrick, from last August. The incredible thing: Nothing has changed since then. Seven long months have passed. McCarrick still lives the same life, in the same place. If we know more about the hidden evils of our bishops now than we did then, no one currently serving in the hierarchy did anything to enlighten us.

But, wait, Father! The pope defrocked McCarrick!

Okay. But: Why? According to what evidence, and according to what legal criteria? [crickets]

Meanwhile, in Australia, the court of the State of Victoria also convicted a Cardinal of sexual abuse. Why? According to what evidence? According to what legal criteria? The judge spelled it all out, in detail, for the public to understand.

Some have argued that George Cardinal Pell never abused anyone. Perhaps he did not. He has appealed the ruling against him.

But the legal procedure according to which George Pell was found guilty and sentenced–there is no question of that procedure’s fundamental soundness. We know what happened. The jury believed the accuser and convicted Pell according to clear laws.

What happened in the Vatican trial of Theodore McCarrick? What laws? What facts? We have no earthly idea.

pope francis head rub

…Yet a third Cardinal was convicted in court. In a civil court in Lyon, France. Not for criminal abuse, but for failing to report criminal abuse, in accordance with the law.

Perhaps one reason why Cardinal Barbarin did not report the abuse: The Cardinal Prefect in Rome (the same one who presided over McCarrick’s Vatican trial) had written to Barbarin, telling him to avoid scandal. The court had subpoena’d the Vatican Cardinal who wrote the letter. The Vatican refused to deliver the subpoena. Barbarin took the fall.

shakespearebetterAfter his conviction, Cardinal Barbarin traveled to Rome to offer his resignation–like a man of some honor might do, under the circumstances. The Pope refused to accept it, citing “the presumption of innocence.” (The Cardinal had already been found guilty.)

…I had a chance conversation with a Mexican friend the other day and learned this: Six years and four months ago, in a diocese northeast of Mexico City, the civil court found a priest guilty of pederasty. They put him in jail. The bishop had tried to cover the whole thing up; Pope Francis promoted the bishop to a larger diocese anyway. The priest will soon finish his jail term, and he will receive a new pastoral assignment…

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, we find a commentary on the relative speeds of youth and old age. Regarding her dear, old nurse, Juliet says:

Had she affections and warm youthful blood,
She would be as swift in motion as a ball…
But old folks, many feign as they were dead;
Unwieldy, slow, heavy and pale as lead. (Act II, scene 5)

The irony is: Pope Francis has just written a long letter to “young people.” He addresses the sex-abuse scandal. He writes:

The irresponsibility and lack of transparency with which so many cases have been handled have to be challenged. (para. 98)

Indeed, Your Holiness. They must be.


An Official Apology


I offer an official apology to all those who use our St. Joseph parish wall calendars. “Catholic Inspirations” published by Comda Advertising Connections. The calendar indicates that on Wednesday we will have a new moon. In fact we will have a full moon on Wednesday.

Please forgive us for this error. Of course it is extremely important. If we don’t know when the full moon comes, we won’t know when the most important day of the year comes. The first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. (Easter!)

The good news is that we can remedy the calendar error simply by looking up at the sky at night.* You can tell by looking that the calendar is two weeks off, when it comes to the lunar cycle.

In other words: God is omnipotently merciful. We make mistakes and screw things up, in our little domain. But God serenely continues to God, without fail, without interruption.


*Looking up at the sky at night will solve the two-week discrepancy with the St. Joseph wall calendar. This year, however, actually involves an interesting anomaly. In determining the date of Easter, the Church does not follow only the observable astronomical facts; we also applying some additional rules. If we did go solely by the sun and moon, then Easter could come on a different day, depending on where you live on the globe.

AD 2019 involves an unusual case, when astronomical Easter and ecclesiastical Easter do not fall on the same day. The vernal equinox this year falls on March 20, when we will have a full moon. So, astronomically speaking, we should celebrate Easter this Sunday. But, according to the rules that apply in the Church (in order to avoid having two Easters in two different parts of the world) a full moon on March 20 does not count. The Paschal moon cannot come before March 21. (This is why Easter seems to come ‘so late’ this year.)

Hidden in the Dust

Lookout Mountain TN postcard Chattanooga

Anyone ever looked out from Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee? It’s the southwestern-most ridge of the Appalachians, about the same latitude as the southern end of the Appalachian Trail.

You look down on the Tennessee River winding its way through the valley below. Dramatic history lies hidden in the soil, so to speak.

Like the decisive military action of the Civil War. The Confederates had put the Federal Army of the Cumberland on its heels here, in the fall of 1863. The Union soldiers in Chattanooga were cut-off and starving. But General Ulysses Grant found a way to get supplies into the besieged city, by stealth and stratagem.

The Union troops survived, and then marched toward Atlanta.

Or, buried even deeper in the dust of the valley: the archaeological remnants of other ancient civilizations that once lived and thrived here. There’s a simple memorial to the Cherokee Trail of Tears in downtown Chattanooga: A set of stone steps that leads… into the river.

Cherokee John Ross
Cherokee leader John Ross

Remember, man, that you are dust.

All this history, and more, lies hidden in the dust, so to speak, of one Appalachian valley. What lies hidden in us? In the dust that we are?

For our sake God made His Christ to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

What lies hidden in our mortal flesh? Nothing less than this: the eternal God has called us to be His beloved children forever. We have a vocation unto undying life, the unending life of God’s powerful love. This mystery of life lies hidden in our now-mortal flesh.

Which means we have a Passover to celebrate. Our brother in this mortal flesh, Jesus Christ, has passed over from the valley of tears into the Kingdom of Light. Our life makes sense when we recognize it as a pilgrimage towards that Passover, Christ’s Passover.

In fact, that’s the only way that human life makes sense. Without Christ, we die meaninglessly on a big rock hurtling around a minor star in a vast, empty universe. With Christ: we march toward life. In Him, God Himself accepted our human death, in order to turn death into a door. The door that leads to the everlasting life of God.

So let’s prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ’s Passover. It’s in… how many days? Let’s pray, fast, and give alms in secret for forty days. Because what lies hidden in this mortal dust of ours is: life.



At age 48, a half-marathon hurts like a marathon did at age 23.

But, thanks to your kind prayers, I crossed in one piece.

We ran past the Civil-War Battle-of-Chattanooga cemetery, among other resting places of the dead, so I said a lot of prayers. And the loving souls helped me get to the finish.

If you count all the marathons I have run as two, then throw in all the half-marathons, your unworthy servant just finished my twenty-second half-marathon.

Heading to church for Mass, and I feel like the king of the world. Praised be Jesus Christ!

The River Flows

Unless we tend constantly towards Easter, towards the horizon of the Resurrection, the mentality expressed in the slogan “I want it all and I want it now!” gains the upper hand.

(from Pope Francis’ Message for Lent)

…I’m sitting and watching the Cumberland River flow by. Next to the ruins of a bridge that 17,000 Cherokee had to cross in 1838, on the Trail of Tears.

Not quite sure why His Holiness needed to pick on Queen (the band) in his Lent message. But the Holy Father makes an excellent point nonetheless.

Mt LeConte
Your unworthy servant across from Mount LeConte in the Great Smokies

Came out to Tennessee to see some mountains and run a race. A year ago they dedicated a brand-new Sacred Heart cathedral in Knoxville.

Knoxville cathedral exterior.jpg

Knoxville cathedral nave.jpg


The front portico reminds you of our cathedral in Richmond.

Knoxville cathedral street facade.jpg

The baldachin reminds you of San Clemente in Rome, or St. Lawrence Outside the Walls.

Knoxville cathedral baldachino.jpg

Knoxville cathedral sanctuary.jpg

They stenciled invocations from the Litany of the Sacred Heart into the interior frieze.

Knoxville cathedral Litany invocation.jpg

They have a stole that Pope St. John Paul II wore.

JP II stole Knoxville.jpg

JP II Dziwisz plaque Knoxville.jpg

(I did not photograph the statue of St. JP II, because it does not look good.)

…I visited Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage…

They are in the middle of renovating the Nashville cathedral.

Nashville cathedral nave.jpg

Nashville cathedral side aisle.jpg

…Tennessee became a state in 1796. To celebrate the Centennial, they constructed a wood-and-plaster replica of the Parthenon in Athens, among other ersatz classical buildings. After the Centennial Exhibition ended, they decided to build a more-permanent replica of the Parthenon.

That building houses one of the most-charming collections of paintings I have ever encountered, given to the city of Nashville in 1927 by insurance-executive James Cowan.

Racial Harmony in Christ

Virginia State Capitol

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for your will laugh. (Luke 6:25, 21)

God made one human race. We all descend from one original mother and father, Adam and Eve. Because our First Parents fell from grace, we inherit human flesh in a state of sin. So we find ourselves estranged from each other, broken down into clans and tribes and races. [Spanish]

God united us again by sending His Son, the new Adam. Christ can and does overcome all the divisions that separate one people and nation from another, by reminding us of the true unity of all mankind, which we find inside ourselves. He died to reconcile every human soul with our Creator. By His light, we can see other people for who they truly are—brothers and sisters, children of the one heavenly Father, with whom we share the destiny of eternal life.

During the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, other ideas wrought havoc with our sense of human fraternity. A lot of people lost sight of the unity of the human race. People here on this very land of Virginia trafficked in human slavery, justifying themselves with the idea that having white skin made you superior to dark-skinned people.

This way of thinking extended well into the last century. Governors, judges, even U.S. presidents, took it for granted. And now, suddenly we Virginians have to face again an excruciatingly ugly and painful aspect of this history. A phenomenon that plagued our state, and much of the country, for over a century. White men masquerading as black men, in order to mock and demean the entire race.

To Kill a Mockingbird Jem Scout DillNow, I for one am not exactly shocked, when it comes to the governor himself. After all, he had just gotten through defending the idea of snuffing out the life of a child at the point of birth. We already knew that the governor hardly has a “moral compass.”

But I want to explain what stuns and hurts me so much. I imagine that it has stunned and hurt a lot of us, especially those among us who remember the 1970’s, those of us who remember what the Civil Rights Movement accomplished.

Everyone read To Kill a Mockingbird? Do you remember the scene in the courthouse, when the children had snuck in, to watch the conclusion of the trial? Little Dill begins to realize that the judge and jury will not give Tom justice, simply because Tom is black.

Dill is just an eight-year-old boy. He doesn’t understand any of it well enough to express his insight in words. He just starts crying. The reality of racism confronts his idealistic and innocent mind for the first time. All he can do is cry.

In the 1970’s, thanks to the heroic courage of many people who gave their lives for it, we found ourselves there, as a country. We looked at the crushing racism that ran through our whole history. We looked at it pretty squarely and honestly. And we wept.

Not just blacks. Not just whites. We wept together. Dr. King had said what we needed to hear, in order for us to regret it all, together.

He was a churchman. He was a preacher. He shone the light of Christ’s truth. We have a common destiny, the one human family. Racial injustice harms the souls of the privileged while it crushes the un-privileged. We have to chase the dream together: sons and daughters of former slaves, and sons and daughters of former slave owners, sitting down together at the table of brotherhood.

So many things about blackface offend. But maybe one thing, above all: the smallness of it. The petty mockery, from behind a mask.

We can be bigger than that. We can communicate as equals, without pretenses. We can live together with true mutual respect.

But I think that we face truly grave danger right now. Without the grace of Jesus Christ, the human race stands united in only one thing. Sin.

We’re not born knowing how to communicate, and build trust, and expand our own souls by sharing the experiences of others. We have to learn how to do that—learn how to do it, from Jesus Christ. We need His grace, His peace, His strength. His love. He loved His enemies. He prayed for the cruel, Jew-hating Roman racists who crucified Him.

Without the love of Jesus Christ, this state, and probably this whole country, will only descend further into the chaos of mutual recrimination.

But He is with us. We can learn from Him. We can have a table of brotherhood. We do have one. We gather around it every time we celebrate Holy Mass.

The Virginia state house may be in a meltdown. The federal government may be in a meltdown. The holy Roman Catholic Church may be in a meltdown.

But we have hope. With Jesus, and with each other. The dream of a unified human race lives, right under the roof of every parish church.