Nursing Home Resident Experience

My dear mom wrote this open letter to the management of Our Lady of the Valley, Roanoke, Virginia. I imagine that a lot of nursing home residents will relate.


We Need More than Rules

Dear administrators,

There’s a sadness at Our Lady of the Valley. I write for myself but I think I speak on behalf of others when I say that the past Covid year has caused us residents much pain and suffering.

We’re human beings who make our own decisions, yet for an entire year we’ve had almost no choices to make. We’re human beings with intelligence and emotions, not just followers of rules for avoiding coronavirus. We’re social human beings, forced into a year’s isolation: no visitors and repeated quarantines in our rooms—quarantines not unlike solitary confinement, which is proven to cause psychic and physical ills in as few as ten days.

You’ve done your best to protect us from coronavirus, and your best has been very good. Our Lady of the Valley has remained relatively free of sickness.

But running a nursing home involves more than “stopping the spread” and avoiding legal liability. Dealing with the pandemic has gotten in the way of human relationships—relationships among residents, relationships between residents and staff. We’ve spent a year of dreary days with little human interaction except for rules: what you can’t do this week; what you might be able to do next month; but no, being able to do that is postponed into the indefinite future. . .

Coronavirus has been a big challenge for you. It has been a bigger challenge for us. You get to go home every day, but this place that has been a prison for a year is our home. We’re suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The whole world is, but we nursing home residents are suffering from it worse.

Don’t make giving orders to isolate us from you and from each other your permanent disposition toward us. Please remember that we deserve tablecloths, kind words, and respect for the wise and experienced people that we are.

Ann White

Anniversaries and Things that Don’t Change

Last year on Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), we had our first ‘virtual’ Mass. We meditated on this:

By believing in Christ, we share in His experience. The eternal Father has made Jesus the heir of all things. Our Lord receives His inheritance as the gift that it is. He offers it back to the Father as a sacrifice of love.

By believing in Jesus, we share in this divine communion of the eternal Father with His incarnate Son. Through thick and thin, we have our share in that communion.

On St. Joseph’s feast day last year (March 19), our bishop here publicly accused me of harming the Church’s unity. He provided misleading evidence to support the charge. Shortly thereafter, he suspended me from ministry and locked me out of my house. I have had to celebrate Holy Mass in solitude ever since. It’s been a year now since I celebrated Mass “with the people.” Not easy.

…Now, imagine the Lord sent an angel to speak with me. “Mark, you’ve had a rough year. What’s one thing we can do up here in heaven, to ease the burden for you a little?”

If that happened, I would not even have had the presumption to ask: “Can you make the Georgetown Hoyas win the Big-East tournament in Madison Square Garden?”

Georgetown Hoyas Big East tournament champions

Our Father in heaven knows the good things we need, before we even ask Him. 🙂

On the other hand, I might have asked: “Could you have the bishop call me on Holy Thursday? And make him say, ‘Mark, it’s the day of the priesthood. I have thought things over. It’s been a year since the problems we had. I will give you your place back now.'”

Problem is, he might then say: “April fool!”

…A couple weeks ago, we kept the 1,985th anniversary of St. Peter’s arrival in Antioch, Syria, in the third year after the Lord Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. The word “Christian” originates from Antioch, which served then as the capital of the eastern Roman empire. Peter governed the Church from Antioch for a few years. Then he went to Rome and governed the Church from there. He suffered martyrdom under emperor Nero and thereby established Rome as the Apostolic See, the See of St. Peter, the city of the pope.

We keep an annual feast on the anniversary of Peter’s arrival in Antioch, February 22. To celebrate the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair, Dom Prosper Gueranger wrote:

Our Lord will not receive us as His children, unless we shall have lived in union with Him by the ministry of pastors lawfully constituted. Honor, then, and submission to Jesus and His vicar! Honor and submission to the vicar of Christ, in the pastors he sends.

Dom Prosper Gueranger
Dom Gueranger

…Yesterday the Vatican made an announcement, and a reporter at WFXR in Roanoke called me. The Vatican announcement hardly came as a surprise–namely, two people of the same sex cannot get married by a Catholic clergyman, and no bishop, priest, or deacon can “bless” the “union” of two men or two women.

The Vatican announcement did not engage the underlying question: Are physical relations between two people of the same sex always a sin? Church teaching has taken for granted from time immemorial that such relations cannot be right. But these days the question sits squarely on the table, with a lot of devout Catholics proposing that the answer might be more complicated. The magisterium of the Church has not addressed the matter since 1986.

One thing I said to the reporter that didn’t make it into the broadcast is this: I think a lot of people find it hard to credit the Vatican with honesty and good will on this subject. The prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, who issued the decree yesterday, himself ducked a subpoena to testify in a French court about his role in covering up sexual abuse by a Lyon priest.

Just in time for this little controversy, I finished reading Confessions of a Gay Priest by Tom Rastrelli. It is one of the most compelling and heartbreaking books I have ever read.

Rastrelli and I are contemporaries. He opens his book with the story of how a squirrel got electrocuted on a transformer outside the cathedral shortly before his ordination ceremony was to begin. They continued in candle light, without air conditioning. That was in June of 2002.

Tom Rastrelli photo credit Frank Miller
Tom Rastrelli (photo by Frank Miller)

I had heard the whole story before, because I was in the same cathedral exactly a year later, for the ordination of a good friend of mine. Everyone was talking about the hot, candle-lit ordination of the year before.

Rastrelli and I both studied for the priesthood under the Sulpician Fathers, he at their seminary in Baltimore, me at their seminary in Washington. We both went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, in August, during our seminary years, and stayed with the priests there. Rastrelli and I know dozens of people in common.

In his book, Rastrelli communicates his experience of sexual abuse at the hands of priest “mentors” with crushing humility and honesty. He thought he was in love; in fact, he was being abused.

Rastrelli is such a good writer that he conveys all the confusion, all the self-doubt. As he put it in an interview about his book, “Most victims don’t know they’re victims at the time. That’s how predators operate, by that kind of mental manipulation.”

When you finally reach the end of Confessions of a Gay Priest, and then consider the stunning way in which the Church has not dealt with the McCarrick scandal, or with the sex-abuse problem in general, you’re left with this: The Catholic clergy is one big closet of confused, compulsive, and dangerous self-hating gays.

A lot of people think that, and we have given them good reason to think it.

Rastrelli has given us a gift. A painful one to receive, to be sure. I cannot exactly recommend reading the book; it made me both cry and vomit. But I salute Mr. Tom Rastrelli as a mesmerizing writer, a brother seminarian I wish I had known in person, and a truth teller with a message we need to consider with the greatest care.

Meanwhile, your humble servant believes more than ever that: the Holy Mass celebrated at our altars–the altars of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church–is the religion that God Himself gave us, by sending His only begotten Son to be our brother.

Someday things will make more sense. In God’s good time.

Laetare pic 2021
Laetare Sunday, 2021

Our Next Scandal

Paycheck Protection Program

About a year ago, we Americans began to realize that the coronavirus would change our lives. On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, with bipartisan unanimity. The president promptly signed it.

The CARES Act provided for–among other things–the Paycheck Protection Program. The federal government funded the PPP in order to help small businesses that needed cash in order to survive. The idea: Let’s keep small-business employees working and paid, even if revenue plummets.

St Francis of Assisi Rocky Mount
St. Francis of Assisi, Rocky Mount, Virginia

The money would come in the form of a loan to cover two and one-half months of payroll. Uncle Sam would forgive the loan completely, if you used the money to pay employees, rent, utilities, or interest on a mortgage.

According to the Small Business Administration, tasked with administering the program, “small business” includes small non-profits.

Now, are Catholic parishes ‘small non-profits?’ According to one seminary professor of canon law, yes.

Nearly each of the nation’s 17,000 parishes operates as its own non-profit… Under canon law, the assets of the parish are managed by the pastor and are not owned by the bishop.

The federal government agreed.

The finance office of our diocese guided our two parishes here in southwest Virginny through the application process. In a matter of weeks, both parishes had received the government funds. A total, as best I can recall, of about $40,000. (I no longer have access to the figures.)

St. Joseph’s, Martinsville, Virginia

Meanwhile, another “small non-profit” did the same–the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, in the western part of that city, 165 miles away. That other small non-profit also received federal money to meet the payroll at the diocesan headquarters ($2 million).

Then, in a stunning turn of events, the CEO of that small non-profit 165 miles away unilaterally ordered the removal of the CEO of the two small non-profits in Rocky Mount and Martinsville. And the Richmond small non-profit CEO had all the locks re-keyed on the buildings owned by the small Rocky Mount and Martinsville non-profits.

A couple weeks ago, the Associated Press published the second of two comprehensive reports on Catholic use of PPP money. The Catholic Church in the United States holds at least $10 billion in cash or other immediately usable assets. Meanwhile, Catholic entities have received at least $3 billion of the federal aid money.


The report makes our Church look opportunistic and dishonest. (And that’s a nice way to put it.) So much so, in fact, that there likely will be a congressional investigation–and certainly should be, if there’s any justice for the American taxpayer.

Not that Catholic “small non-profit businesses” are the only institutions that seem to have abused the PPP. Far from it. But apparently we are the largest and most-egregious abuser of the program.

We have to ask, though: Do the Associated Press reports paint a fair picture? After all, we poor Catholics have suffered plenty of unfair press over the centuries here in the U.S. Non-Catholics tend to see our Church as some kind of monolith, while we on the inside know that it’s actually a large herd of cats.

To consider the fairness of the AP report, let’s break down the purpose of the PPP into it’s two parts. To fund the program, the federal government borrowed from our as-yet-unborn great-grandchildren in order to: save small businesses (1) from going under completely (2).

1. Is a Catholic parish a small non-profit?

As mentioned earlier, numerous Catholic writers have tried to explain away the Associated Press findings with this argument: It’s not one big company. The Catholic Church in the USA does not have one payroll. Even a diocese–its parishes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and charities: not one big company. They are each separate companies. Separate property, bank accounts, and employees to pay.

Problem is: That idea would come as a stunning surprise to the Catholic parishioners here in this little part of the world. They found themselves without a pastor, and locked out of their own buildings, all because of the unilateral decision of someone who–according to the “small non-profit” logic–has no direct connection with the two parishes. Only a relationship of “theological communion.” Somehow that “communion” managed to change the locks.

But that’s not the only example that gives the lie to the “small non-profit” logic. The bishop has unilateral hiring and firing authority over the vast majority of the CEOs of all the “small non-profits” in the diocese. He regularly compels the small non-profits to raise money and send it to him. The nursing homes of the diocese operate with a surplus of cash, and they provide a significant portion of the income necessary to run the operations at diocesan hq. In the middle of the last decade, the bishop compelled us priests and Catholic people to raise $100 million, a big portion of which has funded large diocesan endowments.

2. Did we need the federal aid money?

Last spring everyone trembled. In our parishes, we feared not being able to make payroll. At St. Joseph’s, that prospect became an imminent possibility. At St. Francis, the money we had in the bank could have held us for a year or two, before we totally ran out of money.

ten-thousand-dollar-bill-salmon-p-chaseUnder “normal” circumstances, that money in the bank at St. Francis should get used only for the specific purpose for which it was raised, just like the $140 million+ that the diocese and its associated foundation has.

The money in the bank at St. Francis should go to a building project. We had one planned and ready to move forward when the virus hit, as some of you dear readers remember. And the endowments the diocese has should be used for the specific purposes for which they were set up in the first place.

Should, that is, unless a catastrophic emergency occurs.

Our national treasury was already way empty. The USA already owed more money than any of us can really imagine in our little brains. But we faced a catastrophic emergency as a nation. Potential economic collapse threatened the survival of American small businesses. The US government took out another huge loan, with both political parties endorsing the move.

We Catholic “small non-profits” took $3 billion that small businesses in genuine danger could have had. We were never in real danger of going under. The Catholic Church in America has more than enough ready capital within its own institutions to support the parts of the Church that need it.

Our bishops have yet again brought us to the precipice of a crushing scandal. This time, though, it’s not too late to avoid the debilitating hit to the reputation of our Church.

Everyone panicked last spring. No one knew what the future would hold. It’s only with hindsight that we can see clearly: we wrongly padded our already-big Catholic bank accounts with money that should have gone elsewhere.

We can still give the money back. It’s not too late to do that.

Please, Excellencies. For once, let’s do what the average American will see as the right thing. Protect us rank-and-file Catholics from yet another faith-challenging embarrassment. Let’s give the $3 billion back to Uncle Sam.

Coming Out from Under the ‘Rona, Etc.

Yesterday we commemorated the immaculate conception of Our Lady in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.

The festivities began on the eve of the Solemnity, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, with the NFL upset of the year. Team-formerly-known-as-Redskins solidly defeated the league-leading, as-yet-unbeaten Pittsburgh team. 🙂

Then our Holy Father paid a quiet visit to the statue of the Immaculata at the base of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Pope Francis Immaculate Spanish steps

The pope gave us a letter about St. Joseph. The letter has a couple paragraphs about fathering…

Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Perhaps for this reason, Joseph is traditionally called a “most chaste” father. That title is not simply a sign of affection, but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness.

Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery.

God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the center of things…

When fathers refuse to live the lives of their children for them, new and unexpected vistas open up. Every child is the bearer of a unique mystery that can only be brought to light with the help of a father who respects that child’s freedom… When he sees that his child has become independent and can walk the paths of life unaccompanied, he becomes like Joseph, who always knew that his child was not his own but had merely been entrusted to his care.

In every exercise of our fatherhood, we should always keep in mind that it has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a “sign” pointing to a greater fatherhood. In a way, we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father.

dad3Today would have been my dear dad’s 83rd birthday. May he rest in peace.

Public service announcement. If you catch the coronavirus, how do you know when to end your isolation?

I have had to find an answer to this question, and I have learned something. I think the general public remains confused on this. (I know I was.)

Testing does not help, when it comes to determining when to end coronavirus isolation. I spent fourteen days in isolation. My symptoms had long since gone away. But I didn’t want to expose anyone to possible infection. I went to the CVS drive-thru and swabbed my own nostrils twice–and got two positive results. 😦 Finally, I got wise and talked to my doctor.

I should have talked to him three weeks ago. Turns out, in October the Center for Disease Control eliminated testing from their criteria for determining when to end coronavirus-patient isolation. The fact is, positive tests continue for months, even long after you’re no longer sick or infectious.

If you catch the virus and never experience severe symptoms, the CDC recommends discontinuing isolation ten days after the symptoms first appeared, provided you have at least 24 hours without a fever.

(Good Lord willing, dear reader, you will get immunized before you ever need to take this information into account.)

Guest Post: Bernadette Harmon

The New Normal – First Public Mass

Along with so many others, I have been serving in a new way these last months. My heartfelt desire in offering the streaming of Masses and other events was to encourage the faithful to continue to gather in prayer even while separated, and to strive to grow in the life of prayer and greater intimacy with our Lord as we faced independent prayer in our homes. In our local parishes, it seemed more important than ever to keep the efforts at prayer and exercise of the sacraments alive, to prayerfully support one another while separated from our Pastor, Fr. Mark White.

church_drawingBut change is coming! We are stepping back into our churches, slowly, tentatively, and with continued restrictions. The absence of our Pastor leaves a void! Perhaps some cannot or do not want to face this reality, be it temporary or permanent. Perhaps others are hesitant due to the ongoing concerns related to the pandemic. Each person must discern for themselves what God is calling them to do. Thus, the importance of daily prayer. Without prayer, how can we discern God’s will for us?

Last weekend, I was able to take my father to the first public Mass since March. Attending Mass in a non-serving capacity, gave me an opportunity to be just a parishioner and to reflect on the past few months in a different light. I encourage anyone who serves to go to another parish from time to time to be Joe or Joan Parishioner!

This first step back into a public gathering may have seemed to some as directive and restrictive, even perhaps detracting from the Mass. But, on Sunday afternoon, May 24th, on the Ascension of the Lord, I happily embraced the conditions of attendance for the opportunity to gather with other Catholics in the celebration of this Holy Mass.

My father and I arrived early at the church, donning our masks, signing in and answering the questions about our health, being greeted with masked smiles, being ushered to a seat not of our choosing. We were separated from other worshipers and instead of singing the beautiful hymns and responses we had a chance to listen and pray as they were sung on our behalf. We received the Eucharist almost privately as we kept our distances from one another during the communion procession. The hardest part was being ushered out the door, for I would have loved to stay and allow the experience to wash over me once again in the presence of our Lord in the tabernacle!

I am so thankful to everyone who has worked so hard over these past months to keep the parishes running and the parishioners praying together, and for the diligence and care in seeing to our safety as we once again joined in public prayer! I am certain that the attendance will grow until our churches are once again filled with the hubbub of pre- and post-mass conversation, our children receiving instruction in the faith, little ones babbling, crying, playing in the pews, their parents distracted from Mass keeping their children in check, the single folk as well as younger and older couples finding their sense of community in the body of the faithful, and the elderly sometimes engaging in a light snooze… and together, all of us, across churches the world over, growing in communion with Christ and one another through the Eucharist!

In the meantime, the church continues to call us to participate in the prayers of the church. With a plethora of online venues, both professional and home grown, we all can and should pray every day, with one another (virtually), or independently, using the liturgy of the hours, praying devotions, and just taking precious moments here and there to turn our hearts and minds to God, to receive his healing touch and the consolation He offers, and to listen for his instruction.

Our faith is a blessing; our Lord is a fortress for us! He waits for us to place all our cares into his merciful hands!

God is good. All the time!

Gulag Dispatch #3: Re-opening and Pure Pain

We last gathered for Sunday Mass on March 15.

Since then, the teenagers have had growth spurts and gotten taller. The babies have fleshed-out and gotten beefier. Men have grown beards, shaved them, and grown them again. Some young people have graduated from school via Zoom.

We decided on April 19 that we would weep together for joy when we could finally have public Mass again. Like the Israelites, who had languished in Babylonian captivity, finally returning to Jerusalem.

After all, this Christianity thing: it really does require our coming together. For the Holy Sacrifice. Our souls get frayed at the edges without the Mass. We lose our peace, our anchor, our air.

This Sunday the long-awaited moment will come.

It will be awkward. With screening questions at the door, spacing in the pew, sanitizing like mad. The tears of joy will get the mandatory mask all wet. The normal rhythms of Sunday Mass will not sound. It will feel like religion in a doctor’s office.

But we will have Mass again. The captives will return to Zion, with Alleluias.

I won’t be there.

Words fail me, to describe the pain. May I borrow the plaints of William Shakespeare’s Lucrece?


Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå
Lucretia by Paolo Veronese

I alone must sit and pine,

Seasoning the earth with showers of silver brine,

Mingling my talk with tears, my grief with groans,

Poor wasting monuments of lasting moans.


O Opportunity, thou murder’st troth;

Thou foul abettor! thou notorious bawd!

Thou plantest scandal and displacest laud:

Thou ravisher, thou traitor, thou false thief,

Thy honey turns to gall, thy joy to grief!


When wilt thou be the humble suppliant’s friend,

And bring him where his suit may be obtain’d?

When wilt thou sort an hour great strifes to end?

Or free that soul which wretchedness hath chain’d?

Give physic to the sick, ease to the pain’d?


Time’s glory is to calm contending kings,

To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light,

To stamp the seal of time in aged things,

To wake the morn and sentinel the night,

To wrong the wronger till he render right,


Why work’st thou mischief in thy pilgrimage,

Unless thou couldst return to make amends?

One poor retiring minute in an age

Would purchase thee a thousand thousand friends…


Out, idle words, servants to shallow fools!

Unprofitable sounds, weak arbitrators!

Busy yourselves in skill-contending schools;

Debate where leisure serves with dull debaters;

To trembling clients be you mediators.


In vain I spurn at my confirm’d despite:

This helpless smoke of words doth me no right.

This is how painfully I will miss welcoming my people back to church.

I will celebrate Mass. The suspension of my priestly faculties does not deprive me of that privilege; I simply must celebrate privately.

So the sacred mysteries will unite us, even though I won’t be there to share the tears of joy, after so long an exile.

Pure pain comes our way sometimes. We cling to Christ, in His Church.

We need Him. And we need Her, too. We need His grace more than air. And we breathe His grace like air, at Holy Mass, in church.

Eminently in Communion Out Here, Sir


In a press release this past Wednesday, His Excellency, Bishop Barry Knestout, of Richmond, Virginia, expressed his concern about the “ecclesiastical communion” of the faithful at the parishes of St. Joseph in Martinsville and St.Francis in Rocky Mount. He wrote that he has experienced this concern “for several weeks.”

Now, I think that everyone would acknowledge: your unworthy servant has a uniquely knowledgeable perspective on this. That is, the state of the ecclesiastical communion of the people in question.

So let me testify about it.

I, too, have felt grave concern about this matter for the past eight weeks. Because we have not gathered for Mass as we normally would, in order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

But what I have witnessed over the course of these past two months has humbled and inspired me. Until the bishop prohibited me from hearing confessions this past Wednesday, I had heard more confessions daily during these past eight weeks than I ever had before. I hardly had a moment to get my other work done.

Also: I saw numerous spontaneous acts of selfless generosity. Bags of groceries prepared for others–by people whose own financial future hangs by a thread. A constant buzzing of phone lines, snail-mail boxes, and social-media networks, with people expressing love and solidarity, especially with the old and infirm.

And parishioners with the necessary technical and liturgical skills sacrificing enormous amounts of time and energy, so that their brothers and sisters could participate in our Catholic liturgical prayer, through the internet.

We Christians live in communion with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church primarily through the simple routines of daily life. Most Catholics live their whole lives without ever really knowing the last name of their bishop. But every time anyone makes the sign of the cross prayerfully, he or she expresses pure and total communion with Christ and His one, true Church.

Eight weeks without Sunday Mass poses a serious spiritual challenge, as we discussed last weekend. And now the people of these counties have to face this: the bishop has prohibited their pastor from celebrating the sacraments for them. The only Masses celebrated in our counties this weekend will be the Masses I celebrate privately.

None of this, however, need undermine anyone’s communion with Christ and His Church.

For Joe or Josephine Catholic to question whether the bishop has dealt fairly with the community–that does not necessarily involve any break in communion with the Church. Honest, upright, faithful Catholics don’t always agree with one another on everything. Especially regarding short-term practical matters, which hardly touch the essence of our faith.

So please allow me, your Excellency, to present my testimony, in the same forum you used–that is, the public discourse. I can speak truth, because I have witnessed it with my own eyes.

Franklin and Henry counties, Virginia, have hundreds upon hundreds of faithful and loving Catholic Christians. They are persevering in faith with generous hearts during a once-in-a-lifetime challenge. Their communion with the holy Church would move any shepherd to tears of joy.

Getting Ready to Dunk on Dennis Rodman, Spiritually

Michael Jordan Gary Payton
Jordan and Payton

In our first reading at Mass on Sunday, we hear St. Peter announce to the people of Jerusalem: God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified. [Spanish. Or watch on youtube.]

In other words: “You have sinned. But it brought about your redemption.” Or another way to put it: Oh oh, sinner. Why don’t you answer? Somebody’s knocking at your door. Continue reading “Getting Ready to Dunk on Dennis Rodman, Spiritually”

Hermits for a Season

Rejoice while you have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor. (I Peter 1:6-7)

St. Peter’s words to us. Rejoice in your trials, because they test your faith, like fire tests the purity of gold. [Spanish]

thomas mertonDoes everyone know that the Church of Christ has a “vanishing center?” A mysterious, invisible heart. Who lives there? Christian hermits.

In the 20th century, Father Thomas Merton gained fame among Catholics by seeking this total solitude. And many of us love St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, for the same reason.

A Christian hermit devotes his or her entire life to praising God and fostering the world’s salvation. How? By separating him or herself from human society, in order to live a life of pure prayer and penance.

Christian hermits manifest the interior aspect of the mystery of salvation. Personal intimacy with Christ. A hermit lives hidden from other human eyes and preaches the Gospel silently. By surrendering absolutely everything to God in the desert of silence, the hermit finds the glory of Christ crucified.

All this comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 920 and 921. Maybe it sounds all too familiar right now. We could re-word the Catechism sentences like this:

Living as a Catholic during the coronavirus epidemic manifests the interior aspect of the mystery of salvation. Maintaining a spiritual life during isolation involves personal intimacy with Christ. The Christian staying at home on Sunday morning for the sake of public health finds in the desert of silence the glory of Christ crucified.’

st_therese_of_lisieuxMay God give us strength and insight. By His invisible power and grace, these weeks can deepen and intensify our spiritual lives.

May we co-operate with His grace! May we find the discipline we need. The real hermits will be the first to tell us: when your home and your church are the same little building, and you never leave, you either get holier. Or you lose it altogether.

On the other hand… We read something else in Sunday’s readings at Mass: They devoted themselves to the communal life. All who believed were together. (Acts 2:42, 44)

The Lord has not called us all to live as Christian hermits forever. By no means.

What should we be doing as a parish right now? We should be having First Communions, with the kids in their white suits and dresses. And big Quinceañeras. Cakes after Mass. Weddings with string quartets and trombones. Processions to the Virgin’s grotto. Mexican dances with tambourines and somersaults. Candles, chants, incense.

After all, Catholicism doesn’t mean just, “here come the hermits.” Catholicism means: “Here comes everybody.”

Now, you know me as a man of stone-like stoicism. I find my own personal emotions so uninteresting that I consistently ignore them–so that they will leave me alone.

But you will see me cry. When we come together again in church. Before I can even make the sign of the cross to begin Mass, I guarantee you: I will be crying for joy like a daggone baby.

Easter-Vigil Homily

The Body of Christ Dead in the Tomb Hans Holbein

He made the heavens and the earth. He liberated the Israelites from slavery. He sent the prophets to proclaim the Messiah. And then He lay in the tomb, wrapped in a burial cloth.

We read about the cloth yesterday, at the end of St. John’s account of the Passion. And we will read about the cloth again tomorrow morning; St. John mentions how the Lord left the cloth behind, in the tomb, after the resurrection.

In Turin, Italy, they comforted the world today by taking a camera into the vault where they keep the holy shroud. We can all venerate the cloth that wrapped the dead body of Jesus, through the internet.

We do not deal in myths. We have no vague religion. You ask knowledgeable people, when will this virus crisis be over? And the only answer is… some theory. Maybe a solid theory. But a theory. ‘Well, theoretically it could be over by May 31,’ or ‘theoretically it could stretch out,’ etc.

We, however, do not stand on no theory. You’re not reading your phone or computer right now because of a theory. We Christians stand squarely on facts.

He dwells in heaven, the divine and human Christ. Father Kyle spoke Thursday about the Lord’s abiding presence at every Mass, even the private Masses that we priests celebrate these days. And Jesus remains present in the tabernacle of every Catholic church or chapel, 24/7.

The Savior remains with us. We need Him now more than ever, of course.


Also not a myth. Our faith in the Real Presence. Based on facts, like “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.” “Do this in memory of Me.” “He who eats my flesh remains in Me and I in him.”

Now, a skeptic could reasonably ask: “Wait. You’re saying that one man, one carpenter, who died a long time ago, keeps you company, all over the world? That an ancient Jewish man lives in every little piece of bread you call a consecrated Host?

“Call the epidemiologists! It’s an outbreak of widespread insanity, called Catholicism!”

Ok, ok. We accept your question, Mr. Skeptic. We are not, in fact, insane, but perfectly calm and mentally healthy. How can one man live, in the flesh, in every Catholic church on earth? How?

Two-part answer.

1. He is no longer dead. This man lives, in the flesh, in heaven. He did die. Then He rose again, and left the burial shroud in the tomb. He possesses life, the likes of which we cannot fully imagine.

We do not say that a mortal man like you and me unites Himself with us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. We say that a man like you and me, Who died and rose from the dead, unites Himself with us, in this way.

2. He is the true God. God made flesh. The Mass involves no magic trick. It involves God making His risen human body present to us. If God Himself did not have a human body, we could have no Eucharist. But He does have one.

Heaven exists. Jesus’ body dwells there. And God, Who is heaven, can make heaven present wherever He wills to do so. And we know perfectly well where and how He wills to do so. He Himself said it: “Take this. This is My Body.”

Death has a grip on the world right now. None of us will ever forget this terrifying nightmare of COVID-19. But heaven has a stronger grip. Coronavirus packs a heavy punch. But the Body of Christ, risen from the dead, stands like a brick wall of undying life.