The Scandal of 2002, Painfully Revisited

I mentioned last week: the Cardinal who ordained me lost his right to minister in the Church, owing to an allegation that he sexually abused a minor, well over forty years ago.


No one wants to reflect on such things. But under the circumstances, I have no choice. This is my father in God, the man who received my lifetime promises and ordained me a deacon and a priest. And since Cardinal McCarrick touched many of our lives, perhaps you, dear reader, will benefit from our suffering a bit together, as we think this through.

The man who accused the Cardinal did so because the Archdiocese of New York (McCarrick’s home diocese) set up a process for victims of clergy sexual abuse to come forward. Apparently the Church in New York actively sought to get the problem out from under the rug. Only a reckoning with all the facts can bring peace and reconciliation.

(If you are a victim of sexual abuse reading this, and you have never spoken about it with anyone, please trust someone enough to talk about it.)

The program in New York provided Cardinal McCarrick’s victim with a forum in which to tell his story. The story checked out. So Cardinal McCarrick got treated as any other priest would get treated. Immediate suspension from ministry. (In this case, by order of the pope.)

Let’s remember that the Cardinal has not been found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor. There is no question of a civil legal proceeding, because the alleged abuse occurred too long ago for that. But Cardinal McCarrick has a right to a canonical trial, to vindicate his good name. He says he is innocent.

Or does he? His statement concludes with: “While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charge has gone through.”

Now, when someone undertakes to vindicate his good name after a false accusation, and insists, “I believe in my innocence,” and then apologizes… you have to wonder: Is this poor soul losing his mind? Or dealing with alcoholism or drug abuse? Someone of sound mind knows whether or not he sexually abused a minor.

In this case, the someone is 87 years old. Maybe getting a bit senile. But Cardinal McC still has his wits about him, as I am told by a friend of mine who spoke with him recently.

Conclusion: We have to read the Cardinal’s statement as an implicit admission of guilt. Like most accused priests that I know, Cardinal McCarrick likely will never have a canonical trial. The matter will go no farther than it already has. His indefinite pre-trial suspension will serve as his permanent punishment. And justice will never run its full course.

This is one of the great flaws in the system established by the “Dallas Charter” in 2002. It provides for an administrative penalty so severe (indefinite suspension based on an allegation) that the accused loses his basic legal right to self-defense.

But, in this case, there’s more. Rumors of McCarrick abusing his authority with seminarians have circulated for two decades. Last week, when the Archdiocese of New York announced Cardinal McCarrick’s suspension from ministry, two New-Jersey dioceses where McCarrick had served as bishop also made an announcement. Both dioceses had privately settled legal claims against McCarrick for sexual misconduct with adults.

The adults in question are likely seminarians. Apparently the accusations of misconduct came to diocesan authorities in New Jersey after McCarrick became Archbishop of Washington and a Cardinal.

When I was one of Cardinal McCarrick’s seminarians, I never wanted to believe the rumors about his having taken advantage of seminarians in New Jersey. The people who spread those rumors had their own axes to grind. I knew a kind man. But these settlements serve as evidence that there was truth in those rumors that I refused to believe.

Spotlight movieSo: This week I bit the bullet and rented the movie 2015 “Spotlight.” I had studiously avoided the film until now. It tells the story of the 2001-2002 Boston Globe investigation of sexual abuse of minors by Boston priests.

It is a remarkably excellent movie. It paints a picture altogether too real to ignore.

The movie draws you into the honest, diligent, angry work of the small team of journalists who uncovered something: A long-term conspiracy of silence about sexual abuse of minors by priests in Boston.

The most compelling characters in the movie are 1. the abuse victims, now adults, who struggle to say what happened to them, and 2. the good Boston-Catholic lawyers who have known for years about the extent of the problem, and tried to do right for the victims through confidential settlements, but who feared the damage that a public airing of the whole business would do to the Church.

The movie’s circle of human sympathy excludes one group of people: the men trying to run the Archdiocese. Indeed, the entire narrative thrust of the priest-sexual-abuse story requires that diocesan officials be excluded from consideration as potentially sympathetic human beings. Because the story is about a dishonest conspiracy of silence by those very officials.

The question is: Do the men running the dioceses of the US (and the Holy See, for that matter)–do they deserve to be excluded from the lens of human sympathy, as this movie excludes them? Are the diocesan officials in Boston, or anywhere else, really just villainous foils for the dogged heroes who struggle to bring the truth to light, like the Globe investigative team lionized in this movie?

I know enough about the inner workings of enough Church bureaucracies to say that this total exclusion from sympathetic light does a disservice to the truth. The caricature of predators whispering behind the choir screen has nothing to do with reality.

And not every case of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest should get recounted in the newspaper or on the internet. When Judgment Day comes, some bishops will get vindicated for the discretion with which they dealt with cases that merited such discretion, rather than airing the whole thing on some front page.

So “Spotlight,” as admirable a movie as it is, does not capture all of the reality of this huge mass of pain. But the reality isn’t pretty anyway. In fact, it is now much more maddeningly ugly than it was before.

In 2002, the Church in the US supposedly had a “reckoning” with sexual abuse. Adopted the necessary “policies.”

And the whole time, the man in front of the cameras was Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, a man who had not reckoned with even his own sins.

Today I imagine the man whom Cardinal McCarrick allegedly fondled back in 1971, when he was a 16- or 17-year-old high school seminarian. I imagine that man seeing that priest standing before all the news cameras as the leader of the American bishops’ response to the sex-abuse problem in the hyper-dramatized atmosphere of the spring of 2002.

I think: How many eons of penance will I have to do to help that man’s soul get reconciled to the mystery of Jesus Christ living in His one, true Church governed by the pope and the Catholic bishops in communion with the pope? What miracle of grace would it take for that man truly to come home to Mother Church?

The scandal did not get properly identified in 2002. It has never been properly identified. Pedophilia had very little to do with it.

Good, faithful Catholic people got horribly scandalized because:

A lot of priests took advantage of teenagers (mostly gay priests taking advantage of teenage boys, but plenty of straight priests abused girls, too). And the bishops involved sympathized with the predators instead of the victims. The bishops excluded the victims from the circle of human sympathy.

That was the scandal. It was a bishops’ scandal, not a priests’ scandal.

Lord Jesus said we will always have the poor with us. We will also always have with us priests, teachers, coaches, restaurant managers, uncles, etc., who take sexual advantage of teenagers. It’s a terrible thing. But it ain’t going away anytime soon.

The scandal of 2002 was: The bishops of the Church have no earthly idea how to deal with this perpetual ugly fact of life. They have no clue. They run scared from it, as if from an approaching saber tooth tiger, instead of standing their ground like men and thinking first of the wounded one.

No Church official has ever acknowledged the simple fact that that was the scandal. And none seems likely ever to do so. Makes me mad and sad, and I don’t know which is more painful. But the whole thing sucks.


Consolation in the Spider Web

The gospel passage from Ash Wednesday makes an annual return appearance, at a weekday Mass, once every hot summer.

Live to please your heavenly Father. Pray to please your heavenly Father. Do kindnesses, and make sacrifices, to please your heavenly Father.

He will reward us. He knows the truth. He knows our motives, our intentions, and our struggles. He gives us a marvelous gift: Enough self-knowledge to see clearly that, without His sacrifice for us on the cross, we would have no hope.

This summer suddenly seems hotter and harder than others. Inspector-General reports, disputed interpretations of law at the southern border, special-counsel probes laboring on, and all the World Cup games are too early in the day for anyone in this hemisphere to watch them. Sometimes the world seems like a huge spider web of unsympathetic misunderstandings.*

God knows the truth. Let’s live to please Him.

When He comes to judge, and the struggle of this life is over, He will reward the humble sinner who begs for mercy.


mccarrickNota Bene. I learned this morning that the Holy See has suspended from the priestly ministry the Cardinal who ordained me. Because of an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor in the 1960’s. Cardinal McCarrick is 87 years old now.

The allegation against the Cardinal apparently received the same kind of preliminary investigation as any accusation against a parish priest or religious-ed teacher. (May God be praised for that fact.) The allegation was found to be “credible.” That means immediate suspension of priestly ministry, pending future investigation. Cardinal McCarrick denies the allegation. Perhaps the Congregation for Bishops (part of the Pope’s governing operation) will judge the case.

Back in the spring of 2002, I was a transitional deacon. Public outrage over cover-ups of sexual abuse had reached a fever pitch. On a Washington street, I had to elude a small group of angry teenagers who, seeing my Roman collar, threatened me. “Priests molest children!” And I wasn’t alone, among the priests and seminarians I knew, in facing such spontaneous displays of public anger.

At that time, Cardinal McCarrick served as the sitting Archbishop of Washington. I just went back and read the archive of his columns in the Catholic newspaper during that spring. All the columns were about the sexual abuse crisis. At one point during that frantic spring, the Cardinal made a solemn public declaration that he had never had sexual interactions with anyone. Ever.

Today I pray for my father in God, before whom I knelt to receive the gift of the sacred priesthood.

When Pope John Paul II created him a Cardinal in 2001 (at the same Consistory that gave us Cardinal Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis) the Archbishop took us seminarians with him. I got to serve Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Cardinal ate pizza and drank Killian’s Red with us in the seminary basement once every school year. He laughed at my jokes.

May God have mercy on us all.


Apostolic Ministry


Our bishop will ordain deacons this Saturday, including two admirable young men who spent summers at our humble southwest-Virginia parishes in years past. Next year, God willing, Bishop will ordain these gentlemen to the priesthood. Theodore Cardinal McCarrick ordained me a deacon seventeen years ago yesterday. He ordained me a priest fifteen years ago next Thursday.

I bring all this up a propos of today’s feast. At Holy Mass today we commemorate the election of St. Matthias as the twelfth Apostle. As we read in Acts, after an election supervised by St. Peter, Matthias took the place vacated by Judas.

In the Collect for today’s Mass, we pray about the “college” of the Apostles. Jacob had twelve sons in the Promised Land, the founders of Israel’s twelve tribes. The new People of God, the Church of Christ, also began with a fraternity of twelve brother Apostles. Eleven can make up a soccer team (Go Mexico! in the Copa Mundial). But we needed twelve to start the Church.

In the Protestant world, people tend to think of a clergyman as a learned Bible scholar, qualified by his education and his natural talents to teach people about the Word of God. We Catholics would certainly agree that a clergyman ought to have a good theological education. And we preachers need to work constantly on our teaching skills.

Ecce Agnus DeiBut a careful reading of the New Testament shows that you cannot define a clergyman as a scholar of the Bible. Because the first Christian clergymen wrote the New Testament. The Bible as we know it now did not exist–until some of our Church’s original clergymen finished it and organized it.

So we have to go deeper, in order to define what the “apostolic ministry” is. The apostolic ministry has to do with the authority that lies behind a man’s words. A learned scholar speaks on his own authority. On the other hand, an apostle of Christ speaks the Word of Christ with the authority of Christ.

The Catechism expresses it like this, in para. 875:

No one…can proclaim the Gospel to himself… No one can give himself the mandate and the mission to proclaim the Gospel. The one sent by the Lord does not speak and act on his own authority, but by virtue of Christ’s authority; not as a member of the community, but speaking to it in the name of Christ. No one can bestow grace on himself; it must be given and offered.

It comes down to this: We have received a gift. God united the human race with Himself, in the Person of Jesus Christ. Christ gave Himself to us, and that Gift of Christ Himself comes to us, here and now, through the apostolic ministry.

This gift given us through the apostolic ministry equals or surpasses in value the gift of our having been created in the first place. We did not produce ourselves; God created us. In the same way, we did not “produce” the Christ, our Savior, and the High Priest of the world. God gave us the Christ, through the apostolic ministry.

This does not mean that no one can ever disagree with a single word that a deacon, priest, or bishop says. The sacrament of Holy Orders does not preserve us clergymen from the dunderheadedness that afflicts the human race in general.

The infallibility that the sacrament of Holy Orders does give us–it is actually much, much more humbling, because it is so much more exquisitely beautiful. Anyone can disagree with a priest or bishop, except when he says: I absolve you, or This is My Body and This is My Blood. That is Christ speaking, speaking infallible truth.

The living Son of God, risen from the dead, speaking now through the apostolic ministry. He could have chosen any means that He wanted, to stay close to His people through the ages—He is God, after all. He chose the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament, the silent Host.

Ecclesia docens, Ecclesia discens

st paul preaching to the bereans
Mosaic of St. Paul Preaching

The Church teaching, the Church learning.

I had a few moments to read the transcripts of two lectures–one by a Cardinal, the other by a prominent theologian. Both deserve a reading.

The Cardinal argues that Pope Francis has brought about a “revolutionary” change. God reveals Himself in family life. The teaching Church must learn from today’s families. Doctrine and rules don’t always apply. Ministry = accompaniment.

The theologian insists that Pope Francis has endangered the unity of the Church by teaching ambiguously. And this also endangers the Church’s holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity.

The four marks. Not St. Mark, Mark Wahlberg, Mark Cuban, and Mark White. One, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The celebration of Holy Mass expresses the marks of the Church: united with the local bishop and the Pope, with the Apostles of old, with all the other local churches throughout the Catholic world, professing our faith in the Christ, Who unites Himself with us in the Most Holy Sacrament.

It’s hierarchical–not for the sake of anyone lording it over anyone. Hierarchical in order to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The Church is hierarchical in order to be Herself.

In the authors’ introduction to The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne laments how his becoming an official of Uncle Sam nearly cost him his independence of mind, his imagination, his interior life. But I can’t say the same about becoming an official of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. At the center of Her life we find the endless mystery, the source of all interiority: divine Beauty, Creativity, boundless Freedom.

The theologian, Father Weinandy, thinks we have a crisis because some priests and bishops say, “The Sixth Commandment doesn’t always apply.” Or: They just say nothing whatsoever about how to have sex without committing sins.

Cardinal Cupich thinks contemporary family life can teach us new things about God. Maybe he should read a few John Updike novels before getting too excited.

God became man, and He became a humble man. He submitted Himself to the authority of Pontius Pilate. The Church of Christ always proposes; She never imposes. What wins souls? Kindness, gentleness.

But: Did God reveal Himself by declaring, “I’m nice. Just you be nice now, too?”

No. The ecclesia docens began teaching, ruling, and sanctifying when the Lord commanded Her: Go, baptize all nations, teaching them to observe all the I have taught you.

Because the Apostles listened to that command, we ourselves do not wonder aimlessly, like orphans, through life. We have our sacred patrimony: the Church’s Liturgy, Her books, Her immeasurably rich wisdom. How do we acquire this wisdom? Mustn’t we ceaselessly pray, study, and meditate, with girded loins?

The people wandering the highways and byways of this world seek instruction from their priests. The “democratization” of the modern world hasn’t ended the priest business. Far from it. We priests must be more prepared to instruct and advise then ever. After all, what other sources of information do our people have–about how to live a good life with a tranquil conscience?

What kind of teaching and advice would we priests give if we didn’t listen to our people? Unhelpful teaching and bad advice. Everyone has to wake up every day as a card-carrying member of the ecclesia discens.

But what kind of teaching and advice would we give, if we didn’t base it all on the Gold Standard: The Catechism of the Catholic Church? Is that book not a reliable compendium of apostolic doctrine, normative and hugely enlightening?

If we blow off the Catechism (and all the sources that constitute it), our teaching and advice won’t be worth a damn. Kinda like the advice of priests who suggest, by word or by cowardly silence, that the Sixth Commandment doesn’t always apply.




Catechists Exhortation

el greco st matthew
St. Matthew

Today we keep the feastday of the catechist who wrote the book that teaches us about: the wise men, St. Joseph, the Sermon on the Mount, St. Peter receiving the keys, the king separating the sheep and the goats, and the risen Jesus sending the Apostles to teach and baptize all nations in the name of the Blessed Trinity, among other things.

And soon our humble parishes will begin our annual educational enterprise. We will begin classes–for adults interested in joining our Church, and for our young ones.

In these classes, we will teach sacred doctrine. We do not teach our own personal opinions about anything. What purpose would that serve? We catechists ourselves don’t have more insight into anything than anyone else does. In our classes, we simply minister to the one Teacher, the Christ.

So: Sacred doctrine…  Let’s meditate a moment. What is it?

First: It’s sacred. The world isn’t everything. We human beings need a temple, where we meet God. And we need to learn something there, about Him–so that we can have a friendship with Him.

The world–lovely as it may appear at times, dangerous as it appears at others–the world becomes a desperately unhappy prison house for us, unless we become friends with the One who made it all, and Who guides it all towards fulfillment, according to His mysterious plan.

earthsunWe must learn something about our ineffably mysterious Maker, then, we human beings. And: because He dwells in such unapproachable mystery, the doctrine we learn about Him can come from only one source: He Himself.

What do we learn first? That, in the beginning–a beginning so total and so absolute that our minds cannot conceive it–in the beginning, God arrayed the stars and galaxies and trees and hills and fields, and formed man and woman from the clay. And He did it all for His reason. He made the cosmos for a reason.

The reason. The reason why there is something, rather than nothing. Something–teeth, sheep, rocks, pine cones, human imaginations, fish in the sea, hemispheres of the globe–why there is anything at all, rather than an endless, silent, unpaintable darkness.

The basic question of life: What is God’s reason for all this? And we catechists must face this fact, and start from it: We would have no answer to this question, no answer at all–had something unexpected not happened.

Okay, yes. Some people did expect it, back in ancient Israel. Kind-of. The Almighty had taken some significant steps. He had spoken to Abraham and promised that old Mesopotamian man descendants as numerous as the beach sands or the night stars. The Almighty had spoken to Moses. The Lord had, indeed, consecrated many prophets. So our ancient forefathers knew God and expected something.

But still–it came as a surprise. The Annunciation came as a surprise. Mary believed, but she did not understand. St. Joseph believed, but he did not understand. Bethlehem came as a surprise. Jesus’ miracles and teachings and triumph over death–it all came as quite a surprise. All the faithful disciples believed, but they did not understand.

What happened was this: Turns out the one, true God–indivisible, uncomplicated, pure like nothing we know–infinitely more pure than Ivory soap–turns out that He, the One, is three: Father, Son and Spirit of infinite love.

El Greco Christ blessing croppedAnd the second divine Person, the Son, became flesh. Man. Incarnate. He dwelt among us. He spoke. He did stuff. In Palestine.

Now, we human beings need to learn many things. For instance, it really helps to know how to drive. And how to cook–at least how to cook spaghetti. And most of us need to learn how to do something useful, to participate in the ‘economy.’ (Those who don’t just run for public office 🙂

But all other knowledge pales in significance compared to: knowing about Jesus Christ, the Son of the eternal Father. When we learn about Him, we learn the great reason of God. The Why. Why do I wake up in the morning, rather than not? What is God’s point, with all this? With these 24-hour intervals of life, which He doles out to me with such stubborn regularity? –To know Christ is to know the answer.

Lovely, Father! you say. Lovely. We ❤ Jesus 2. But, you add: People like St. Matthew, all the Apostles, St. Thomas Aquinas, all the wise popes and theologians–they spent their lifetimes trying to learn about Christ. But in Religious Ed., we only have like an hour a week.

“Sacred doctrine.” How vast! The whole Bible, the traditions we have which go back to Christ Himself, the writings of all the holy men and women of the ages… Father, we’re just volunteers here. How do we even begin?

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchLet’s look at it like this. There are two kinds of people. On the one hand, people who know the Four Pillars of the Catholic faith by heart. On the other hand, the poor, uninformed people who don’t.

The people in the first group have everything they need to spend the rest of their lives growing in friendship with God. They have the interior foundation. They know the essential basics of the religion of Christ.

The people in the second group do not.

So we catechists have a simple-enough task: Move people from the second group into the first.

Adults can and must memorize all four pillars between now and Easter. Not hard, if you go to Mass every Sunday.

How about our youth? Memorizing?

Little ones can memorize the Our Father. Next: the Ten Commandments. Once you’re ten or eleven, you should have memorized the seven sacraments. By Confirmation day: the Creed.

Not hard, if you go to Mass every Sunday.

In my youth, I had coaches who made us run suicides. Up and down the basketball court, until we almost puked. Over and over again. Every practice. Every day. They drilled us.

At the time, I thought these coaches were crazy, killer tyrants. Cruel, heartless Nazis. Some days I had to choke back tears of exhaustion and shame. I wanted to quit with every fiber of every muscle of my being.

But now I venerate these men as loving gods. They loved us enough to whip us into something, something worth getting whipped into. And that had to do with just this mortal body–this body that will soon lie in a coffin.

Which is more important? Having what you need to play basketball, or having what you need to get to heaven?

Catechists, drill your students on the Four Pillars. Drill them without mercy. Because nothing could be kinder and more merciful than helping someone memorize the things we need to know in order to have a friendship with God. Drill them, and don’t apologize. Drill them until they know it.

The world needs hardass catechists. Let’s do it.





RIP, Big Frank

DiLorenzoThe man kept Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop on his desk for years. So you figure he was ready.

For all of bishop’s many kindnesses to me, I give thanks. For his few injustices against me, I right readily forgive him. May the blame not attach itself to him. I refuse to press charges.

May he forgive me for all the ways I have failed him–all of which he sees with perfect clarity now. He has much more to forgive me than I him.

He knew how to have fun. He and I had fun in his office, over straw hats, and with a desk calculator (trying to figure out how many hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to rebuild all the Church property within 300 yards of Orange Avenue in Roanoke). And I basically laughed in his 300-pound face when he lectured me about keeping fit.

I pray with all my heart that we will dine together in the life to come, a proper southside-Philly Italian meal, without him having to worry about his tricky digestion or his sugars. My dear departed dad was 100% clueless, and that often left me in difficult situations. But I always knew he loved me, with the desperate love of a father who wished he could guide his son, but just didn’t know how. I’m weeping right now, because I saw the same in Bishop DiLo. Resquiecant in pace, both of you, dear fathers. I owe you both.

…Richmond sede vacante is weird. For us parish priests of the diocese, I think it’s even weirder and more doleful than Roma sede vacante. May the good Lord comfort us and help us.

Little World

downtown Charlottesville mall

The other night, I reached the end of an era in my little life. I read the final words of Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset. Sweet sadness overwhelmed me.

Six Barsetshire novels–all of them about the country clergy, their families, their interactions with their neighbors and doctors and benefactors. About how young people move from the county into London, and their city lives. About the scramble for suitable marriages and adequate incomes.

Trollope concludes the series with a seriously wise reflection on the clerical life, which I would like to quote at length. But I will save that for an appendix to this post.

…For five years, from 2011 to 2016, I lived in greater Roanoke, while my dear mommy lived in Washington D.C. She hasn’t driven a car in decades, but she loves to ride the train. It doesn’t take a geographical genius to figure out the perfect place for the two of us to meet for a couple days during those years: Charlottesville.

Airbnb provided us with small downtown apartments. We ate at The Nook, or Citizen Burger, or Downtown Thai. My mom shopped at Caspari while I took my daily run up the hill and around the University Rotunda.

So my first reaction to the big news of the weekend involved intimate geographic familiarity. “Emancipation Park” is not a place I read about in the news; it is where I have done cool-down stretches at the end of numerous runs.

So I have experienced an enormous amount of frustration in trying to find a straightforward and clear report of what exactly happened on Saturday and where–by which I mean: at the corners of which streets (because I know them all).

I weep because downtown Charlottesville does not in any way deserve this crushing disturbance. Downtown Charlottesville deserves to have its own quiet life, and not be the object of a news-camera spectacle.

In August of 2015, the peaceful carp pools of Bridgewater Plaza, Franklin County, Va., also became the focus of the insatiable media spectacle, because of arbitrary and cruel death. I wept then, for the same reason.

I refuse to do any grandstanding for an end to racism here on my blog, at least not today. What I want to do is: pray that downtown Charlottesville gets to return to normal life, with people eating al fresco of a summer evening, sipping Budweisers, and leaving the moral absolutes alone.

Appendix. From the final paragraphs of Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series:

Before I take my leave of the diocese of Barchester for ever, which I purpose to do in the succeeding paragraph, I desire to be allowed to say one word of apology for myself, in answer to those who have accused me–always without bitterness, and generally with tenderness–of having forgotten, in writing of clergymen, the first and most prominent characteristic of the ordinary English clergyman’s life.

I have described many clergymen, they say, but have spoken of them all as though their professional duties, their high calling, their daily workings for the good of those around them, were matters of no moment, either to me, or in my opinion, to themselves…

There are those who have told me that I have made all my clergymen bad, and none good. I must venture to hint to such judges that they have taught their eyes to love a colouring higher than nature justifies.

We are, most of us, apt to love Raphael’s madonnas better than Rembrandt’s matrons. But, though we do so, we know that Rembrandt’s matrons existed; but we have a strong belief that no such woman as Raphael painted ever did exist. In that he painted, as he may be surmised to have done, for pious purposes–at least for Church purposes–Raphael was justified; but had he painted so for family portraiture he would have been false.

Had I written an epic about clergymen, I would have taken St Paul for my model; but describing, as I have endeavoured to do, such clergymen as I see around me, I could not venture to be transcendental.

Abram and Lot Part

Abram and Lot part mosaic Santa Maria Maggiore
Genesis 13 mosaic in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

We read at Holy Mass today from Genesis, about how a separation occurred. Lot went one way, to the Jordan Plain. Then God made a prodigious promise to Abram.

Today, we, too, say farewell to each other, dear Roanoke–like Lot and Abram. The Lord has apportioned to me the fruitful plains to the south. Actually, they are hilly piedmont counties, on the far side of Cahas Mountain.

But the promise to Abraham holds good for all us sons and daughters of the Church, in whatever lush county the Lord gives us to inhabit. We will bear immeasurable fruit. The good that can come from even one single Christian walking the narrow way behind our Lord—that good trumps all the dust of the whole earth, if all that sand and soil could get measured in a scale.

…Now, some of us make it a habit of calling our Lady the “Mother of God” quite often. Like at least fifty-three times a day. We have St. Cyril of Alexandria to thank for keeping that phrase in use. He battled the heretics who tried to eliminate “Mother of God” from our Christian lexicon. St. Cyril died 1,573 years ago today.

Hail Mary,…

Eye on the Sparrow


Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. (Matthew 10:29)

Our forefathers of the Old Covenant awaited the coming of the Messiah. They didn’t know what His name would be. They didn’t know what He would look like, or exactly what He would do.

Nonetheless, they believed in the coming Christ, because they knew that God would provide everything necessary for their nation to enjoy true blessedness. He had formed an alliance with them, and He had promised good things; they knew He would fulfill His promises. History would make sense. Life would have meaning. Our natural human desires for justice and truth, for real happiness in an upright, honest life—all these desires would be fulfilled. Somehow.

The ancient Israelites did not know how everything would get resolved. But they believed in the good God, Who knows all and governs all. In other words, they believed in Divine Providence. So they had no doubt in their minds that God would send His Christ to make everything right.

And the Father did send His Christ.

Through Adam sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all… But the gift is not like the transgression. For if, by the transgression of the one, many died, how much more did the grace of God, and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ, overflow. (Romans 5:12,15)

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

The ancient Israelites awaited the loving fulfillment of the divine plan. And now we Christians know beyond a shadow of a doubt: God loves us with the love of a kind Father.

Christ crucified has revealed it: our heavenly Father has counted all our hairs, with the same kind of tenderness with which a mother would stroke the peach fuzz on her baby’s head. Christ crucified reveals the full extent of the Providence of God. The Father loves us this much; He loves us with the “amount” of love evident on the cross. And that amount = infinity.

Meanwhile: the cross also teaches us another important thing. If I might, maybe I’ll get a little personal here. I have vivid memories of how my vocation as a Catholic, and as a priest, began. Twenty-five years ago, the Lord helped me see something else in the crucifix: not just the love of the Father, but also the total trust that the incarnate Son had in His Father.

Ever since earliest childhood, I had loved Jesus and believed in Him as the Savior, as the One Who has atoned for sin, Who has revealed the fullness of the Father’s love for mankind. Then, when I was reaching adulthood, the Lord gave me this other gift. I saw how Jesus gave Himself over into the Father’s hands, trusting so absolutely that He died fearlessly, even serenely, on Mt. Calvary. The Lord helped me see how this trust of Christ on the cross could be a way of life—a way of life for all of us, and especially for us men called to be priests and to live a celibate life.

God will provide. I have nothing to fear. I myself may be obtuse and difficult; I may be weak-natured and prone to selfishness. And there are plenty of other people in this world who have the same problems, so we run up against each other in conflicts sometimes. But I can still dive headfirst into the great pool of love that is Christ’s Church, without holding anything back, because I have no evil to fear. Jesus trusted—unto death. And the heavenly Father took care of Him, lifting Him up from the grave, to immortal, heavenly glory. So the Father will take care of me, too.


…Now, when Bilbo Baggins prepared to leave the Shire on his 111th birthday, he declared to his neighbors, “A hundred eleven years is too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits!”

Two years is too short a time to serve in Roanoke among the excellent and admirable Catholics of St. Andrews and St. Gerard’s. I wish I could have 111 more years, so Catholic Roanoke could really get good and sick of me.

Seriously though, I think we have to exercise a little patience with ourselves, as we gradually try to get over the shock of this pastoral transition. Maybe I could even say: we have to exercise patience with ourselves as we recover from the wound of this mysterious pastoral transition.

God sent His Christ, thus providing everything necessary for us to get to heaven. But it didn’t happen without wounds. As we meditate on God’s fatherly Providence, let’s remember: the two sparrows which got sold for a small coin, which the Lord said our heavenly Father had His eye on—they didn’t sell those sparrows, in the Temple courtyard, for pets. They sold them for… sacrifice.

The workings of Divine Providence don’t involve some happy-happy-joy-joy merry-go-round ride. No. God’s entire plan revolves around one precise center point: Mount Calvary. We have an altar at church for a reason: so that we can offer ourselves in sacrifice–along with the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus.

Certainly the transition of pastors in Roanoke spells relief for many people who find me intolerably tedious—whom I cannot blame at all, since I find myself intolerably tedious, too. But for me anyway, and I daresay for some others, this is a painful moment–me having to say goodbye to some dearly beloved hobbits. It is a moment of sacrifice, genuinely wounding sacrifice. Wounds like this don’t heal overnight.

But we trust. God provides. Jesus said: Do not be afraid!

So why should I feel discouraged, or why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely, away from heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion; my constant friend is He.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

What Will Endure?

If what was to fade was glorious, how much more will what endures be glorious. (II Corinthians 3:11) What does endure? What will endure even beyond the “passing away of heaven and earth?” (Matthew 5:18)

chaliceThe answer resounds right in front of our noses. “The chalice of My Blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant.” We do not go too far when we say: Our religion is the Mass.

Not that we do no other acts of religion. We pray at other times and in other places. And we try to act justly and kindly all the time and everywhere we go, out of duty to God. But none of our prayers or religious acts outside of Mass make any sense at all without the Mass.

We do not go too far when we say: Our religion is Jesus Christ. Jesus, the incarnate Word of the eternal Father, makes Himself our sacrifice and our food in the Holy Mass.

Yes, we sacrifice other things; we strive to sacrifice our whole lives to God. But no sacrifice we can make pleases the Father unless we unite it with Christ’s sacrifice. And, in truth, we need make no sacrifice other than the sacrifice of Jesus—since, in offering Himself, He offered everything good and worthy in us. After all, He made us according to the infinite Wisdom He possesses in His unfathomable mind.

Sometimes non-Catholics try to confuse this issue of the absolute centrality of the Holy Mass and the sacred priesthood in the Catholic Church. They note that the New Testament contains relatively few references to the Mass, or the priesthood, or the Real Presence.

But this criticism actually misses the obvious context of the New Testament itself. What is the New Testament? Is it a collection of moral instructions? If so, it is not a coherent one. Is the New Testament an account of first-century Mediterranean-basin history? If so, it is a terrible, practically unreadable one.

The New Testament makes perfect sense, however, as a collection of documents written by churchmen—men who maintained intimate communion with Christ through the Holy Eucharist. Documents, in other words, written by priests of the new and eternal covenant, for the benefit of their people, namely the people who participated regularly in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

The living, breathing reality of the Church—priests and people celebrating Jesus’ Mass together: that is the gloriously glorious thing that will not pass away. Even on the other side of the final and all-encompassing purification of heaven and earth, we will gather together around the altar to offer Jesus and receive Jesus.