a conversation with Kale

I’ve just released a podcast episode with a friend of mine, Kale Zelden, in which we have a conversation about a broad range of topics: the self-conscious church; distinctive garb and priestly identity; the church as an expert in humanity; the naked public square and moral unbelievers; self-exploitation, social media and grifters; the institutional and the charismatic; the long wait for renewal; and Catholic identity and liturgy.

A Conversation with Kale Zelden The Weight of Glory

being released

large-wave-capsize-boat2020 brought many changes in the world… a good deal of upset and the unveiling of many things. 2019 was like a rehearsal for me, on a personal scale.

I posted this song by Carrie Newcomer on January 1st, as my prayer for 2020. I think I chose well, in ways I could never anticipate.

May you bless the place you live,
And bless the spot you fell,
And let go of hidden stories
Too dangerous to tell.
Let there be no stones to throw,
And someone to watch your back,
And some prayers be never answered
For the things we think we lack.

May we be released;
May we be held dear.
May we listen to the wisdom
That we didn’t want to hear.
May we be released.
May we….

May you leave and walk away,
Kick the dust and shout unfair.
May we finally stop and think
Of the blame that we both share.
When you stand in gale force winds
And home a passing thought,
When the truth catches your eye
May you have the grace to stop.

May we be released;
May we be held dear.
May we listen to the wisdom
That we didn’t want to hear.
May we be released.
May we….

May you get fed up and finish
Old obsessions past their prime.
May you find the silent center
And leave all undone behind.
May there be bread and honey.
May somebody love your flaws,
Give a stranger your umbrella
And love a grateful dog.

May we be released;
May we be held dear.
May we listen to the wisdom
That we didn’t want to hear.
May we be released.
May we….

May we finally see
May we finally hear
All the perfect lies
That kept us here.
And all the skills we learned
Just to keep us whole
Be thanked for what they were
And finally let go.

May the unseen world be present
Invoked into your life.
May you have the strength to question
All the things you thought were right.
May you sense the light around
The very old and very young.
May you go ahead and quit
What you should never have begun.

May we be released;
May we be held dear.
May we listen to the wisdom
That we didn’t want to hear.
May we be released.
May we.

May We Be Released, from the album Everything is Everywhere

the value of trials

Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of DiscernmentSin obscures. So does selfishness. The cross purifies. All of us ordinary mortals are wounded, immersed in our own darkness. A healthy self-denial sensibly practiced and rightly motivated slowly lifts one out of his egoism, laziness, hedonistic inclinations. We are fitted to receive the clean light of the Spirit.

The saints invariably possessed a remarkable wisdom. Even the most simple of them were gifted with a penetration into reality and into the God of all reality that books and studies cannot produce. This penetrating gaze into the real was made possible by their prior purification. This must be at least part of the meaning of that mysterious saying of St. John of the Cross: “The purest suffering produces the purest understanding.” In another place the saint amplifies this idea when he remarks that “the purest suffering brings with it the purest and most intimate knowing, and consequently the purest and highest joy, because it is a knowing from further within.” One who lives the paschal mystery, life through death, lives more and more deeply and thus will see more and more penetratingly. Authenticity is begotten on the cross.

Suffering reduces us to our own ashes; it strips away egoism and makes love possible. A Scripture commentator can remark that “to be a ‘tried’ Christian or to experience the Spirit is one and the same. Trial disposes to a greater gift of the Spirit, for He now achieves by trial His work of liberation. Thus freed, the tried Christian knows how to discern, verify, ‘try’ everything.”

If adaptation to the modern world has actually meant settling for a more comfortable life, a rejection of the hard road and the narrow gate, it is no renewal at all. If updating in a religious congregation has consisted largely of mitigations, we have a clear sign of resistance to the Spirit of the living God. If the renewal of moral theology consistently means more pleasure and less sacrifice, it is no updating at all. It is a surrender to the world.

from Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment by Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M., “Moral Behavior: Cross-Asceticism”

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

IMG_4740
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

the first casualty of war

Screen Shot 2020-08-26 at 6.52.13 AMI remember one of my high school English teachers explaining to us that truth is the first casualty of war.

Sacrifices during wartime make sense. But if a government makes serious miscalculations about the nature of an enemy and the extent of a threat, and then refuses to face the data, soldiering on with measures that trample over the lives of its citizens, one could be justified in asking if we are being compelled to join in a false crusade with grave consequences to the human family.

If you haven’t yet watched the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, it’s incredibly relevant to this moment.

There are manifold ways to mislead others. One is by understating a threat, and another is by overstating it. Still another is by refusing to change course when the truth appears down an unexpected road. But once the truth reveals itself, and you insist on keeping it concealed: look out. The truth has no regard for your attempts to suppress it. It’s a losing battle every time.

May our first fidelity be to the truth, discovered along the pathways of humility and generosity. Let us be convinced that only on that basis can we serve the common good. All other paths lead to deadly illusions.