on this Thanksgiving Day, may I suggest…

you take five minutes to listen to this song?

There’s no time like the present.

May I suggest
May I suggest to you
May I suggest this is the best part of your life

May I suggest
This time is blessed for you
This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright

Just turn your head
And you’ll begin to see
The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight
The reasons why
Why I suggest to you
Why I suggest this is the best part of your life

There is a world
That’s been addressed to you
Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes
A secret world
Like a treasure chest to you
Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerize
A lover’s trusting smile
A tiny baby’s hands
The million stars that fill the turning sky at night
Oh I suggest
Oh I suggest to you
Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life

There is a hope
That’s been expressed in you
The hope of seven generations, maybe more
And this is the faith
That they invest in you
It’s that you’ll do one better than was done before
Inside you know
Inside you understand
Inside you know what’s yours to finally set right
And I suggest
Yes I suggest to you
Yes I suggest this is the best part of your life

This is a song
Comes from the west to you
Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun
This is a song
With a request
With a request of you
To see how very short the endless days will run
And when they’re gone
And when the dark descends
Oh we’d give anything for one more hour of light
And I suggest this is the best part of your life

Susan Werner, May I Suggest, from the album Live at Passim

I think Pope Saint John Paul II was singing in the same key when he wrote:

We need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a “wonder” (cf. Ps. 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image (cf. Gen 1:27; Ps. 8:5). This outlook does not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death’s door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity.

It is time for all of us to adopt this outlook, and with deep religious awe to rediscover the ability to revere and honour every person, as Paul VI invited us to do in one of his first Christmas messages. Inspired by this contemplative outlook, the new people of the redeemed cannot but respond with songs of joy, praise and thanksgiving for the priceless gift of life, for the mystery of every individual’s call to share through Christ in the life of grace and in an existence of unending communion with God our Creator and Father.

Pope Saint John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, paragraph 83

Our freedom and our vocation is always found in the moment, in that place where time touches eternity. Not in tomorrow or yesterday:

For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.

T.S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages, Four Quartets

Slowing down to be grateful for what life has given us here and now, to be aware of the invitation that is uniquely expressed in this moment, in this place, in this person, can set us free, no matter what the circumstances may be.

Very often we feel restricted in our situation, our family, or our surroundings. But maybe the real problem lies elsewhere: in our hearts. There we are restricted, and that is the root of our lack of freedom. If we loved more, love would give our lives infinite dimensions, and we would no longer feel so hemmed in.

This doesn’t mean objective situations don’t sometimes exist that need to be changed, or oppressive circumstances that need to be remedied before the heart can experience real interior freedom. But quite often we may also be suffering from a certain confusion. We blame our surroundings, while the real problem is elsewhere: our lack of freedom stems from a lack of love. We judge ourselves to be the victims of difficult circumstances, when the real problem (and its solution) is within us. Our heart is imprisoned by our selfishness or fears, and it is we who need to change, to learn how to love, letting ourselves be transformed by the Holy Spirit; that is the only way of escaping from our sense of confinement. People who haven’t learned how to love will always feel like victims; they will feel restricted wherever they are. But people who love never feel restricted.  That is what little Saint Thérèse (of Lisieux) taught me.

Father Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom

Or in the words of Susan Werner:

There is a world
That’s been addressed to you
Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes
A secret world
Like a treasure chest to you
Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerize
A lover’s trusting smile
A tiny baby’s hands
The million stars that fill the turning sky at night
Oh I suggest
Oh I suggest to you
Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life

memories from my first trip to Europe

While attending the Franciscan University of Steubenville, I had the privilege of spending an entire semester studying and traveling in Europe. The spring of 1992 was the second semester of the inaugural year of the study-abroad program based in Gaming, Austria, at a thirteenth century Carthusian monastery in the foothills of the Austrian Alps. It was an unforgettable four months.

You can view the photos I took during the semester by clicking on the image below.

Europe - Spring 1992

The Kartause in Gaming, Austria: the monastery where we lived, studied and prayed

At the end of the semester, I made this entry in my journal:

Thursday, April 30th, 1992

There are only dim echoes in the Kartause today.
The rain lands gently
upon thirsty buds,
while the whole house sleeps
after a busy semester of life with family.

Many brothers and sisters left this morning;
“goodbye,” we said,
like we’d say any weekend,
conditioned for their prompt return.
But our time in Gaming is finished now.
They return to their homes and their lives —
many we may see again,
but never again will we walk the same paths
so closely and for so long…
It gives me a deeper hunger for heaven;
after all, this is a foretaste and a portion
of the family we will meet there…

My brothers and sisters:
we whistled a tune together while we we here,
a beautiful tune.
I want to whistle it often
so that I may always remember.
But I know that Brother Time has his ways —
and a day will come when I whistle that tune no more.
I will remember its beauty,
but it will be impossible to return to whistling it.
I must wait for heaven to whistle it again.
It is a song we whistled and sang:
We sang it at the noon hour,
when the bells rejoiced before the breaking of the bread.
We sang it in the evening,
when we joined together to adore our Eucharistic Lord.
We sang it as we traveled to Rome and Assisi,
in the churches and especially on the castle-crowned mountain in Assisi,
where the fire sparked joyfully before our song.
We sang it in our daily activities,
our daily drawing together —
our daily growth.
The song we sang may never again touch our lips in this world,
but it will be forever engraved on our hearts:
the song of our life in the Kartause.

Bless the Lord for the song that he gave us.

for everything there is a season

Since posting a story about St. Joan of Arc parish this past Sunday, I have received a number of inquiries, both by e-mail and in the comments online, asking about how the archbishop could allow such lunacy to take place.

I simply want to urge caution to those who would judge the archbishop severely. I know some wonder why things have been allowed to get this wacky, or why more ecclesial muscle is not being exercised now in order to get the parish to shape up or ship out. Some things to remember:

  1. The archbishop inherited a very old problem here when he became archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in 1995. The previous ordinary actually was on record saying that the archdiocese needed a church like St. Joan’s (and yes, it was wacky back in the 80’s too – read Donna Steichen’s Ungodly Rage if you don’t believe me).
  2. The archbishop actually has had several confrontations with the leadership of this parish… particularly in 2003, when in the space of several months, he asked the pastor to dis-invite gay activist Mel White from delivering the Sunday homily, and told his office of religious education to reverse their decision to give the archdiocesan “educator of the year” award to lesbian DRE Kathy Itzin.
  3. Unless one has had close dealings with the archdiocese over the past years, it’s a bit difficult to appreciate how little support the archbishop has received even from his own staff. It is a classic case of weeds growing up among the wheat. Saint Joan’s is hardly the only problem spot in the archdiocese. How exactly do you discipline a half-dozen two-year-olds at the same time?
  4. It would be a mistake to see Archbishop Flynn as sympathetic with the theology and tactics of the Joan of Arc crowd, or to think that he simply doesn’t care about the spiritual health of the parish or the archdiocese. If you know the man personally, as I do, you realize how deeply this sort of thing troubles his priestly heart.
  5. No priest in their right mind — except maybe a St. John Vianney in-the-making — would flourish in this parish, and not without great suffering. It’s not going to be easy to select a successor to Fr. Wertin, a man who spent years tickling the ears of his parishioners – year in and year out – with a message of narcissism and malcontent.

I mention all of this by way of saying that while there is a time and place for asking a bishop difficult questions and calling him to a more fervent application of his pastoral mandate, I would submit that this is not the time or place to take this approach with Archbishop Flynn. There is a season for criticism, and one for encouragement, and I believe it is a season for encouraging this shepherd of the Church. He has chosen his battles carefully over the years, and focused especially on promoting marriage and family life, Eucharistic adoration and priestly vocations, and it would be difficult to say that his efforts have not been fruitful in this regard. I personally believe he has taken a longer view at reform, and not entertained any fantasies about the possibility of removing every Judas from the Church’s membership… ultimately because the divine Master did not do such a thing either.

If you want to encourage the Archbishop, and live in the archdiocese, you might consider writing him a short note of gratitude for the many good things he has encouraged and fostered in his nearly ten years of service here.

And pray for Archbishop Flynn. Pray for priests. Whenever possible, offer a word of encouragement. So often we have no idea of the burdens they are shouldering on our behalf, without notice and without thanks.

in gratitude for my Dad

At 1:15 am this morning, I had the privilege of being present as my Dad made his passage to the next life, after a battle with cancer. It was a peaceful, awe-inspiring time that I shared with my mom and two of my siblings. His breaths became shorter and less pronounced, in the way that the lapping waves on the shore — after the wake of a passing ship — become less pronounced and then fade entirely. His ship is now making a wake in other waters.

One memory I have of Dad is the way he began his day: in prayer. There was a room on top of our house called the “Crow’s Nest.” Early in the morning, that’s where you would find him… in quiet… with a Bible and a notebook, nurturing his relationship with God. From this “time apart” came so many of the riches he shared with us.

Dad was, among other things, a consummate teacher, whether it was identifying tree types on a hike, showing techniques on the tennis court, or explaining the patterns of haiku poetry. He had a passion and a gift for passing along the many things he knew, and he knew so many things because he took an interest in whatever he encountered. Most of all, he took an interest in whoever he encountered, and that was, for me, one of his greatest lessons.

God bless, Dad. Thank you for everything.