Malice (and not), April, the Race

President Abraham Lincoln uttered quite a few memorable sentences. My favorite is from his second inaugural address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all…let us strive on.” With malice toward none.

A couple old friends of mine crossed the finish line yesterday. I myself crossed it on Patriot Day, 1995.

Anybody else? Been there at Copley Square? Or anywhere along the route? Or at any other marathon or organized footrace?

running feetWhat I am getting at is: If there is any situation here on this beleaguered earth; any human atmosphere where we could honestly say, “the people here are gathered with malice toward none,” this would be it.

You go to a marathon, to run or to watch; you root for everyone and against no one.

In 2004, I ran 26.2 miles through every borough of New York City wearing a t-shirt that read, “100% Pro-Life.” Dozens, if not hundreds, of dyed-in-the-wool Gloria-Steinem-style Manhattan Democrats cheered for me, even though they did not know me, yelling “100% PRO-LIFE!!!”

My point is: As anyone who has ever been at a marathon knows, it is one of those truly rare human occasions where everyone is for everyone and against no one. It’s emotional; it’s genuinely wonderful; it’s one of the most fun things in the world. It is beautiful.

Hence, the bitterness of the tears.

May the Lord comfort. As the Cardinal of Boston put it: Let’s turn to the light of Christ. Because we need it. Life in this world hurts.

I ran the Boston marathon with four fellow Jesuit Volunteers. As we ran up ‘Heartbreak Hill,’ with the easy spring sun shining on us, we had one of our ‘pain check-ins:’

“Ok. Right now: My left knee. My right heel. And my entire back.”

“Check. For me, it’s a blister on the ball of my left foot, and the sweat is burning my eyeballs.”

“Check. I can’t breathe, and I’m really thirsty.”

The fourth just shook it off. Couldn’t talk for the pain.

t-s-eliotWe need Christ. Spring springs in April. Buds blossom. It’s great to be alive.

But, as T.S. Eliot put it, “April is the cruelest month.”

VA Tech shooting—April. Columbine—April. Oklahoma City—April. Statistics show that, of all months, April tends to turn depressed souls to violence. Usually it’s violence against themselves. More suicides in April than in any other month.

May God rest the souls of the dead. May He heal the wounded and comfort the grieving.

I’m not much for psychoanalyzing people. But maybe one reason why April’s sweet air and long sun, it’s soft, breezy comfort—one reason why this provokes souls darkened by despair is: This month bears so much resemblance to the peace of Eden. Yet we do not have that peace.

The most ancient teaching holds that God created the heavens and the earth on March 25. This means that the coming of April coincided with the first sabbath day.

Also, as we celebrate annually, the Lord gave us the mysteries of eternal life at this time of year, by the Resurrection and Ascension of the Passover Lamb of God.

In other words, April does indeed have a special whiff of eternity to it. Which makes the fact all the more painful: this is still the same fallen world. Same fallen world, full of sin, twelve full months per year.

Let’s turn to Christ. He endured the mystery of evil on a beautiful spring day. He endured it so that we might be redeemed, so that He could raise us on the last day. On the Day of the Lord, springtime will arrive, and it will never end.

May He comfort our troubled hearts now, and give us hope, so that we can run the race.

Big Dig

Jesus said to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

On Sunday we discussed these two parables. Both concern an object of superlative value. Both objects lay hidden, and then they are found.

The treasure of our faith lies hidden to us, deeply buried in the unfathomable divine mystery. We have frequently to remind ourselves that our faith and religious practice aim at nothing less than Almighty God Himself.

None of us are experts on the subject of God. We aspire to know Him. But what we now know lays on the surface. The treasure lies buried. We have to dig and dig and dig.

Perhaps the Lord has given us such intellectual Popes lately in order to teach us this lesson. For a generation, the Church has been led by brilliant scholars, men of towering intellect. Like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, our Popes have tirelessly applied their minds to the task of exploring the immeasurable depths of the simple mysteries of our faith. In their preaching and catechesis, the Popes of our age have spent years tirelessly digging deeper and deeper into the mystery of God.

In Boston a few years ago, they had the “Big Dig,” to put I-93 underground. The digging seemed to go on forever. But we need not fear that our spiritual excavations will entail endless labor. As the parables tell the tale, we search for something that intends to be found. This is the most fundamental fact of revelation: God wills that we seek AND FIND Him.

Yes, He demands that we revere His transcendence, that we fear His awesomeness and never presume to be familiar with things that are high above us. But He came to us. He became man to meet us. He wants our company—doesn’t need it, but freely wills it. We were made to know Him, not to be ignorant of Him.

Our lifetime of seeking Him will run its course. He allots us our days on earth as the calendar of our adventure of learning about Him. But on every one of our days of searching, we can take comfort in the fact that He plans to welcome us home when we do finally find Him.


Baseball fans have every right to complain. “Father, how could you run this blog as if Major League Baseball did not exist? How could you go on and on about the Redskins and the Wizards (before the NBA season has even started), and not once mention the American pastime? What kind of sports blog is this?”

A good question. Nonetheless, I was prepared to keep ignoring Major League Baseball, perhaps for another fortnight. In fact, when the Red Sox had a pitching change at the beginning of the seventh inning last night, I turned off the t.v. It was over. Some team that didn’t even exist when I was growing up was going to the World Series to face the Phillies.

Boy, did I make a big mistake. (I am not the only one. Apparently, some of the Red Sox fans left Fenway Park at the same moment that I decided I had better things to do than to watch the dismal death of the ’08 Boston Red Sox.)

Anyway, in case you did not read your Sports’ page this morning: the Red Sox scored eight runs in three innings in one of the greatest comebacks of playoffs’ history.

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.)