a question of relevance

Pope John Paul II with crucifixToday’s Gospel reading begins:

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”  (Luke 12:49-50)

I think it’s good to remember that renewal of the world begins with interior transformation. No elected official, political party, or legislation — past, present, or future — has the power to save us. Only Jesus Christ has the power to save; He becomes present to us and renews us in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Him, we become instruments of renewal in the world.

If I could recommend only one book about renewal of life and the renewal of the Church through interior transformation, it would be Fire Within by the late Fr. Thomas Dubay, SM. The book changed my prayer life, and continues to do so. It’s a great summary of the teaching of Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and the Gospel on prayer.

I’m posting the first three paragraphs here, in the hope that it will be enough to coax at least a few of you to pick up a copy and read it:

The Son, radiant Image of the Father’s glory, proclaimed that He had come to cast a fire upon the earth and that He longed for it to burst into blaze. It was in the form of fiery tongues that the Holy Spirit of Pentecost descended upon a timorous group of men and women. Their minds and hearts having been enkindled with a burning love and ardent zeal, those who received the Spirit sparked the astonishing transformation of an unbelieving and corrupt civilization into a community of faith and love.

In our day the divine fire has not been extinguished. The consuming conflagration has not been contained. The proven incapacity of committees and clubs, speeches and surveys, electronics and entertainment profoundly and permanently to change vast numbers of people for the better has to be conceded. As the experience of the centuries attests, true transformations in the world and in the Church continue to come about only through the interventions of men and women on fire — that is, through saints. The evidence is overwhelming. It is also widely ignored, for it contains an otherworldly wisdom that this world does not welcome. For some, taking the evidence seriously presents a snag, since it implies striving for this same kind of transformation within oneself as a starting point for improving the world. Indeed, at this very moment, deep and lasting changes in the Church are being brought about by a faithful few who are burning interiorly as a consequence of the deep prayer given by the Holy Spirit, who renews the face of the earth in ways other than our own. These quiet, humble, unassuming individuals seldom write position papers, and they are not likely to appear on controversial television talk shows or to attract front-page headlines. They are not identified with any “ism,” and they care nothing for a life of luxury or notoriety. They do not achieve popular acclaim by opposing ecclesial leadership and rejecting received doctrine. Rather, they are like the saints have always been. The burning ones are the unflickering light of the world, the savory salt of the earth, the lively leaven in the mass.

Thus, contemplative husbands and wives are examples of holiness to their children not unlike a Hedwig or a Thomas More. Prayerful clergy serve to inspire parishioners through soul-stirring homilies, sound guidance in the confessional and comforting concern in times of need. Teachers who are aflame ignite their students by their contagious enthusiasm as well as by the attractiveness of the truth they proclaim. Nurses close to God have a healing influence on both soul and body. In the home, in the marketplace, in the cloister, the love steadily radiating from these simple ones permeates and invigorates the world around us. It is unmistakable evidence of God living in and among us, a clear manifestation to our world that the Incarnation has taken place. Common folk instinctively grasp this, while it easily escapes the more sophisticated, who often fail to comprehend what transcends the tangible order of meetings and strategies and publicity campaigns.

In the words of the Saint Pope John Paul II, our responsibility is simply to “become saints, and do so quickly.”

requesting prayers for a writing project

This summer, I am at long last drafting a novel that I have been brooding over for seventeen years, since I completed the 2002 Act One writing program in Chicago. Once I have the story in novel form, I hope to adapt it into a screenplay.

The screenplay is set in an arena I know intimately – namely, an American Catholic seminary in the 1990s. Given recent developments in the scandals in the Church, the story seems especially timely. This is not a documentary, or a scandal script, per se, but really intended as a theological thriller in the vein of Charles Williams’s novel Descent Into Hell.

As you might imagine, this is rather highly charged material, that has to stare squarely into the face of some very uncomfortable realities. As Flannery O’Connor once wrote in an essay entitled The Church and the Fiction Writer:

A belief in fixed dogma cannot fix what goes on in life or blind the believer to it…. If the Catholic writer hopes to reveal mysteries, he will have to do it by describing truthfully what he sees from where he is. An affirmative vision cannot be demanded of him without limiting his freedom to observe what man has done with the things of God….

It is when the individual’s faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life; and when there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the supernatural is apt gradually to be lost. Fiction, made according to its own laws, is an antidote to such a tendency, for it renews our knowledge that we live in the mystery from which we draw our abstractions. The Catholic fiction writer, as fiction writer, will look for the will of God first in the laws and limitations of his art and will hope that if he obeys these, other blessings will be added to his work. The happiest of these, and the one he may at present least expect, will be the satisfied Catholic reader.

I’ve hesitated for a long time to move forward with the project. Only recently have I felt ready (personally) to address this subject in a way that I hope will be redemptive for the audience. At least I know that the story, as it is unfolding, has been redemptive for me.

I plan to first draft the project as a novel, and then work on its adaptation for the screen. (I understand that Graham Greene took this approach with The Third Man).

I’d be grateful if you’d consider keeping this in your prayers. The operative title for the project is Saint Judas.

Pre-work reading includes:

The Third Man – Graham Greene
Goodbye, Good Men – Michael Rose
Ungodly Rage – Donna Steichen
Trojan Horse in the City of God – Dietrich von Hildebrand
Descent into Hell – Charles Williams
The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier
The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
Story – Robert McKee

the shroud of Turin

I’m posting the audio of a talk given in 2005 about the Shroud of Turin by Jack Sacco. Sacco, an engineer and writer by trade, interviewed the multi-disciplinary group of scientists who were given access to study the Shroud in 1978. The venue for the two-hour presentation was Saint Monica’s Catholic Church in Santa Monica, California, and the speaker was introduced by Father Willy Raymond, CSC.

“Many of us [scientists] were, at first, quite confident of our technical adequacy. Some may have even been cocky. But none of us survived this extraordinary voyage into the unknown without becoming more humble and more aware of the dimensions of our ignorance. Scientific hubris may have been our mutual sin at the outset, but now we have learned better.”

John Heller, biochemist who studied the Shroud

who was Benedict referring to in this passage?

From Patrick Madrid’s coverage on Relevant Radio:

…In light of the scale of the pedophilic misconduct, a word of Jesus has again come to attention which says … “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” That’s from Mark 9:42. And Benedict says the phrase “the little ones” – in the language of Jesus – means the common believers who can be confounded in their faith by the intellectual arrogance of those who think they are clever…

Like, I don’t know, maybe… certain gadfly priests who flit around on social media and flit around giving talks and lectures and appear on, you know, late night television programs and confound the faith of believers because of their own intellectual arrogance and they subvert the teachings of the church… I don’t know; I’m just pulling ideas out of the air here. He’s referring to that kind of thing.

So here Jesus protects the deposit of the faith with an emphatic threat of punishment to those who do it harm. What he’s saying here, I should just say, is: bishops and priests, take note. Those who cause these little ones who believe in me to sin …. It would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. He identifies the little ones from the Greek that’s used there as the common believer – the average person who doesn’t have a theological background. The modern use of the sentence is not in itself wrong but must not obscure the original meaning…

Click here to listen to the audio.

sshhh…. this letter is an open secret

Hi all you fine clerics of Bavaria, just wanted to be sure you received a copy of the letter from the pope emeritus. Translated into English. JCR (aka PB16) greets you cordially, by the way.

Also, Patrick Madrid does a nice job of explaining what it all means. It’s profound, compelling and nutritious. Enjoy!  If you like what you hear, please consider subscribing to his podcast over at Relevant Radio.

Given in Minnesota, on the 12th day of April, 2019, the 49th year of my insertion into the priesthood of all believers.