Because Sorrow Enriches Us

More than once, I’ve had my heart shattered. In my late teens, my first love left me without warning. In my late twenties, I lost my former college boyfriend to a drug overdose. In my late thirties, I nearly lost my beloved husband to a terror attack. Since then, until most recently, I have been haunted by a recurring dream that my wonderful, loyal Greg would not marry me, despite the life we’ve built together. The shock of nearly losing my husband has echoed in my heart. Only now, in my late forties, do I realize that the sorrows I’ve carried have woven themselves into the tapestry that is me. A recent encounter with my teen-aged self taught me that my sorrow has been a helpful companion. [Read more...]

John Milton, “On His Blindness” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

At the Boston Catholic Men’s Conference on Saturday, 1,000 men seated in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross were challenged to “go all in” in the great poker game with Jesus Christ. This challenge applies to you and me, whether we have a huge stack of chips in front of us or just a pair of white ones, like the widow with her mite. English poet John Milton (1608–1674) was completely blind by the age of 44—not as serious a calamity as Beethoven’s deafness but certainly a handicap to the author of Paradise Lost. His chips were depleted.

Meditating on his “spent light,” Milton came up with the beautiful sonnet known as “On His Blindness.” Any time you feel you have little to give, or the wrong thing, you can recall Milton’s final line: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” At the center of the sonnet stands Patience.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.” 

Because of Divine Frivolity

Times are tough all over. First we had the economic meltdown to contend with. Now we Catholics are watching our Church and our Pope get attacked by the same people who were attacking Goldman Sachs two years ago, and Tiger Woods a few months ago. Are the attacks justified? Where you sit is probably where you stand. But the fact of the matter is, the storm has been raging since day one on planet Earth.

The storm was certainly raging in Jerusalem in 33 AD, rising to a fever pitch in the court of Pontius Pilate. And just when the Romans, and the Scribes and Pharisees, thought it was “game-over,” it turned out that the game was work and the work had only just started. The work is called salvation of souls. And guess what? The storm will be raging until Our Lord and Savior returns as the Just Judge. I probably won’t be walking around on that day (and neither will you, I’m just sayin’).

I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humor. I’m not a joke teller though, as I never can remember all the details necessary to pull off the punch-line in a joke. But I’ve been known to make people laugh, OK?—at least smile (!), from time to time. True, they probably smile out of pity for me but that’s OK. I’ve written a few posts that I thought were just downright funny, but my weird sense of humor doesn’t work for everyone. When I became a Catholic, I came across someone who takes the cake on being both funny and serious. Those of you who suffered with us through the YIM Catholic Book Club so far have read Orthodoxy by the person who wrote the funny/serious essay below, Gilbert K. Chesterton.

Written as a chapter in Heretics and published in 1899, Chesterton expounds on an idea that is also another reason YIM Catholic, divine frivolity. GKC explains to the deadly earnest and serious Mr. McCabe why it’s OK to make your points with a wink and a smile. If you ever saw Bill Murray in the movie Stripes, you’ll probably remember this line delivered by Warren Oates as Sgt. Hulka: “Lighten up, Francis!”

XVI — On Mr. McCabe and a Divine Frivolity

A critic once remonstrated with me saying, with an air of indignant reasonableness, “If you must make jokes, at least you need not make them on such serious subjects.” I replied with a natural simplicity and wonder, “About what other subjects can one make jokes except serious subjects?” It is quite useless to talk about profane jesting. All jesting is in its nature profane, in the sense that it must be the sudden realization that something which thinks itself solemn is not so very solemn after all. If a joke is not a joke about religion or morals, it is a joke about police-magistrates or scientific professors or undergraduates dressed up as Queen Victoria. And people joke about the police-magistrate more than they joke about the Pope, not because the police-magistrate is a more frivolous subject, but, on the contrary, because the police-magistrate is a more serious subject than the Pope. The Bishop of Rome has no jurisdiction in this realm of England; whereas the police-magistrate may bring his solemnity to bear quite suddenly upon us.

Men make jokes about old scientific professors, even more than they make them about bishops — not because science is lighter than religion, but because science is always by its nature more solemn and austere than religion. It is not I; it is not even a particular class of journalists or jesters who make jokes about the matters which are of most awful import; it is the whole human race. If there is one thing more than another which any one will admit who has the smallest knowledge of the world, it is that men are always speaking gravely and earnestly and with the utmost possible care about the things that are not important, but always talking frivolously about the things that are. Men talk for hours with the faces of a college of cardinals about things like golf, or tobacco, or waistcoats, or party politics. But all the most grave and dreadful things in the world are the oldest jokes in the world — being married; being hanged.

One gentleman, however, Mr. McCabe, has in this matter made to me something that almost amounts to a personal appeal; and as he happens to be a man for whose sincerity and intellectual virtue I have a high respect, I do not feel inclined to let it pass without some attempt to satisfy my critic in the matter. Mr. McCabe devotes a considerable part of the last essay in the collection called “Christianity and Rationalism on Trial” to an objection, not to my thesis, but to my method, and a very friendly and dignified appeal to me to alter it. I am much inclined to defend myself in this matter out of mere respect for Mr. McCabe, and still more so out of mere respect for the truth which is, I think, in danger by his error, not only in this question, but in others. In order that there may be no injustice done in the matter, I will quote Mr. McCabe himself.

“But before I follow Mr. Chesterton in some detail, I would make a general observation on his method. He is as serious as I am in his ultimate purpose, and I respect him for that. He knows, as I do, that humanity stands at a solemn parting of the ways. Towards some unknown goal it presses through the ages, impelled by an overmastering desire of happiness. Today it hesitates, light-heartedly enough, but every serious thinker knows how momentous the decision may be. It is, apparently, deserting the path of religion and entering upon the path of secularism. Will it lose itself in quagmires of sensuality down this new path, and pant and toil through years of civic and industrial anarchy, only to learn it had lost the road, and must return to religion? Or will it find that at last it is leaving the mists and the quagmires behind it; that it is ascending the slope of the hill so long dimly discerned ahead, and making straight for the long-sought Utopia ? This is the drama of our time, and every man and every woman should understand it.

“Mr. Chesterton understands it. Further, he gives us credit for understanding it. He has nothing of that paltry meanness or strange density of so many of his colleagues, who put us down as aimless iconoclasts or moral anarchists. He admits that we are waging a thankless war for what we take to be Truth and Progress. He is doing the same. But why, in the name of all that is reasonable, should we, when we are agreed on the momentousness of the issue either way, forthwith desert serious methods of conducting the controversy? Why, when the vital need of our time is to induce men and women to collect their thoughts occasionally, and be men and women — nay, to remember that they are really gods that hold the destinies of humanity on their knees — why should we think that this kaleidoscopic play of phrases is inopportune? The ballets of the Alhambra, and the fireworks of the Crystal Palace, and Mr. Chesterton’s Daily News articles, have their place in life. But how a serious social student can think of curing the thoughtlessness of our generation by strained paradoxes; of giving people a sane grasp of social problems by literary sleight-of-hand; of settling important questions by a reckless shower of rocketmetaphors and inaccurate ‘facts,’ and the substitution of imagination for judgment, I cannot see.”

I quote this passage with a particular pleasure, because Mr. McCabe certainly cannot put too strongly the degree to which I give him and his school credit for their complete sincerity and responsibility of philosophical attitude. I am quite certain that they mean every word they say. I also mean every word I say. But why is it that Mr. McCabe has some sort of mysterious hesitation about admitting that I mean every word I say; why is it that he is not quite as certain of my mental responsibility as I am of his mental responsibility? If we attempt to answer the question directly and well, we shall, I think, have come to the root of the matter by the shortest cut.

Mr. McCabe thinks that I am not serious but only funny, because Mr. McCabe thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else. The question of whether a man expresses himself in a grotesque or laughable phraseology, or in a stately and restrained phraseology, is not a question of motive or of moral state, it is a question of instinctive language and self-expression. Whether a man chooses to tell the truth in long sentences or short jokes is a problem analogous to whether he chooses to tell the truth in French or German.

Whether a man preaches his gospel grotesquely or gravely is merely like the question of whether he preaches it in prose or verse. The question of whether Swift was funny in his irony is quite another sort of question to the question of whether Swift was serious in his pessimism. Surely even Mr. McCabe would not maintain that the more funny ” Gulliver” is in its method the less it can be sincere in its object. The truth is, as I have said, that in this sense the two qualities of fun and seriousness have nothing whatever to do with each other, they are no more comparable than black and triangular. Mr. Bernard Shaw is funny and sincere. Mr. George Robey is funny and not sincere. Mr. McCabe is sincere and not funny. The average Cabinet Minister is not sincere and not funny.

In short, Mr. McCabe is under the influence of a primary fallacy which I have found very common in men of the clerical type. Numbers of clergymen have from time to time reproached me for making jokes about religion; and they have almost always invoked the authority of that very sensible commandment which says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Of course, I pointed out that I was not in any conceivable sense taking the name in vain. To take a thing and make a joke out of it is not to take it in vain. It is, on the contrary, to take it and use it for an uncommonly good object. To use a thing in vain means to use it without use. But a joke may be exceedingly useful; it may contain the whole earthly sense, not to mention the whole heavenly sense, of a situation.

And those who find in the Bible the commandment can find in the Bible any number of the jokes. In the same book in which God’s name is fenced from being taken in vain, God himself overwhelms Job with a torrent of terrible levities. The same book which says that God’s name must not be taken vainly, talks easily and carelessly about God laughing and God winking. Evidently it is not here that we have to look for genuine examples of what is meant by a vain use of the name. And it is not very difficult to see where we have really to look for it. The people (as I tactfully pointed out to them) who really take the name of the Lord in vain are the clergymen themselves. The thing which is fundamentally and really frivolous is not a careless joke. The thing which is fundamentally and really frivolous is a careless solemnity.

If Mr. McCabe really wishes to know what sort of guarantee of reality and solidity is afforded by the mere act of what is called talking seriously, let him spend a happy Sunday in going the round of the pulpits. Or, better still, let him drop in at the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Even Mr. McCabe would admit that these men are solemn — more solemn than I am. And even Mr. McCabe, I think, would admit that these men are frivolous — more frivolous than I am. Why should Mr. McCabe be so eloquent about the danger arising from fantastic and paradoxical writers? Why should he be so ardent in desiring grave and verbose writers?

There are not so very many fantastic and paradoxical writers. But there are a gigantic number of grave and verbose writers; and it is by the efforts of the grave and verbose writers that everything that Mr. McCabe detests (and everything that I detest, for that matter) is kept in existence and energy. How can it have come about that a man as intelligent as Mr. McCabe can think that paradox and jesting stop the way? It is solemnity that is stopping the way in every department of modern effort. It is his own favourite “serious methods;” it is his own favourite “momentousness;” it is his own favorite “judgment” which stops the way everywhere.

Every man who has ever headed a deputation to a minister knows this. Every man who has ever written a letter to the Times knows it. Every rich man who wishes to stop the mouths of the poor talks about “momentousness.” Every Cabinet minister who has not got an answer suddenly develops a “judgment.” Every sweater who uses vile methods recommends “serious methods.” I said a moment ago that sincerity had nothing to do with solemnity, but I confess that I am not so certain that I was right. In the modern world, at any rate, I am not so sure that I was right. In the modern world solemnity is the direct enemy of sincerity. In the modern world sincerity is almost always on one side, and solemnity almost always on the other. The only answer possible to the fierce and glad attack of sincerity is the miserable answer of solemnity. Let Mr. McCabe, or any one else who is much concerned that we should be grave in order to be sincere, simply imagine the scene in some government office in which Mr. Bernard Shaw should head a Socialist deputation to Mr. Austen Chamberlain. On which side would be the solemnity? And on which the sincerity?

This essay is continued on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.  Don’t you dare smile!

To Sing My Part

Our oldest son told me once: “Mom, life is not an opera.” Oh, I don’t know about that. My older sisters and I called ourselves “The Singing Salerno Sisters” when we were growing up. We sang constantly: pop songs, church pieces and folk music. When I became a mother, singing my babies to sleep was merely the end of a day spent singing to them. Now, I sing while schlepping our boys to their activities. I sing (not too loudly) to relieve my stress in the grocery store line. I sing while waiting for the tank to fill up at the gas station. All my singing, however, largely has been done in private. I hadn’t sung in any kind of group for at least a decade until I joined our church choir this fall. Because the choir is so small—two voices to a part—I’ve had to rethink the way I sing and the way I live.

The last time I sang for any sustained time in formal groups was 30 years ago. I sang in three high school groups: chorus, concert choir and madrigal choir. Even the madrigal choir was big enough that I could hide.  There always were several altos who were much more confident and talented than I. So I hid behind their voices. I waited for them to come in on our part. I followed behind.

I can’t hide now. In my church choir, I’m one of two altos. Sometimes, my fellow alto has to sing tenor because her range is too low. Sometimes, she has trouble finding the right notes or rhythms, as do I. This means I can’t lean on her. I can’t hide my voice behind hers. I can’t assume she’s leading me anywhere.

As a result of being one of just two altos, I’ve discovered I don’t always have the best grasp on lyrics. Often, what I imagine the words to be is slightly off from what the words are. I’ve discovered I can be lazy about counting, so I invent my own rhythms. I’ve discovered I’m always waiting for someone else to start singing my part.

I’ve had to confront the idea that my voice is my own. I’ve got to keep the time. I’ve got to know my part. I’ve got to know my words. My voice is part of a larger group of singers who are relying on me to be prepared and confident so in harmony we can all pray to God through song.

I am thankful that God, who created the music of the cosmos, led me to this choir. My fellow choristers are helping me learn to share what gifts I have in ways I never have before.“Give thanks to the LORD on the harp; with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises. Sing to him a new song; pluck the strings skillfully, with shouts of gladness.”

Gettin’ Twangy, Sister (Music for Mondays)

Frank and I have so much fun with this regular feature we might have to make it a daily affair. Well, maybe not. We’ve had chants, polyphony, Christian rockers, and just plain rockers in recent weeks. It’s time to get twangy with some of America’s top country and bluegrass ladies, each of whom has something to say to the spirit. Last week, I did a post on Mary Gauthier’s lovely tune “Mercy Now,” recorded at the Grand Old Opry. Here’s a quartet of tunes that make good company for that one and may just rain a little more mercy down on us all.

Gillian Welch, “Orphan Girl
You’d never guess she’s a native New Yorker, playing here with her longtime musical partner David Rawlings. By the way, the G in Gillian is hard, as in “Gilligan’s Island”—

I am an orphan on God’s highway
But I’ll share my troubles if you go my way
I have no mother no father
No sister no brother
I am an orphan girl

I have had friendships pure and golden
But the ties of kinship I have not known them
I know no mother no father
No sister no brother
I am an orphan girl

But when He calls me I will be able
To meet my family at God’s table
I’ll meet my mother my father
My sister my brother
No more orphan girl

Blessed Savior make me willing
And walk beside me until I’m with them
Be my mother my father
My sister my brother
I am an orphan girl

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Nanci Griffith, “From a Distance”
Bette Midler went platinum with this tune by Julie Gold, but long before that, my little daughters and I used to sing along with Nanci Griffith on the tape player in the beloved old Blue Bomber, and at the top of our lungs—so that’s the version you get here.

God is watching us, from a distance . . . 

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Alison Krauss and Union Station, “A Living Prayer”
Their version of “There is a Reason” is even better for my money, but You Tube won’t let you embed it. So you’ll have to click here for that one.

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The Wailin’ Jennys, “Glory Bound”
This Canadian trio—Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta, and Heather Masse—is one of my favorite finds on Pandora Radio, and Lordy knows, they’re headed in the right direction:

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Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch, “I’ll Fly Away”
And you thought they were already good on their own—they are even better together! The duo combined forces and was featured on the O Brother Where Art Thou movie soundtrack. Frank really likes it and snuck it in at the last second.

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For Practical Advice Like This from Benedict Baur

Webster was kind enough earlier this year to send me a gem of a book about developing one’s interior spiritual life. This is one of those books, like St. Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle, that is so deep, so lovely and so helpful that one certainly cannot read it in one sitting, or even a chapter at a time. In fact, I have been reading it sentence by sentence, pausing to take notes and meditate on how the book’s message speaks to my own circuitous pilgrim path.

The title of this book, “Frequent Confession”  by the late German abbot Benedict Baur  O.S.B.,  was about as appealing to me as would be a book titled “Monthly Weigh-ins” that focuses on improving one’s physical health. That is because Baur’s book, first published in 1922, is not so much about encouraging Catholics to make frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance, which it does, but rather about cultivating an understanding of one’s exterior and interior faults daily so as to grow spiritually. Thus, frequent confession becomes a kind of weigh-in for our souls.

Thanks to poor faith formation as a child and my own spiritual immaturity, my understanding of the Sacrament of Penance has been shallow. I knew one is supposed to go to Confession at least once a year and always after one has committed a mortal sin, including deliberately missing Sunday Mass. So my habit has been to go at least once a year, and when I am aware of a mortal sin. Then before I head into the confessional I will do a quick examination of conscience, which helps me to confess a few venial sins for good measure. Until I started reading Baur’s book, sadly enough, I never connected my earnest freelance efforts to grow as a Christian throughout the year with this sacrament. This book is a useful guide.

Baur, for example, recommends that we examine our conscience every evening. He suggests we take a look at our “thought, feelings, words and deeds.” This is not an obsessive-compulsive exercise in scrupulosity; rather, Baur says: “When this examination of conscience is made regularly it is not very difficult; a person knows his customary failings,  and so he discovers without much trouble whatever faults he has committed during the day.” It’s pretty humbling.

Another point Baur makes early on in the book is that we can confess sins more than once. I never had considered this;  I had felt an overwhelming sense of relief that some of the more embarrassing sins of my youth had been confessed and that was that. Baur is helping me to see the links in my journey, the way my path sometimes winds back upon itself.  In other words, perhaps as a youth I had the tendency to sin in a certain way. While I have confessed those particular sins, and no longer sin in that way, the underlying character fault that caused those sins has remained and perhaps found expression in different ways of sinning.

Baur follows this insight with a discussion of exterior and interior faults. Exterior faults are those “by which those around us are annoyed or irritated.” I am finding those are easy to tackle, or at least to identify. For example, I have a tendency to gossip. When I fall into that bad habit or feel as if I am about to, it is relatively easy to realize and then I quite literally hold my tongue.

What is much more difficult to face and diminish are my interior faults: “our own faults of character, the weak points in our makeup.” These are the brutes I’m now confronting. It’s painful and cathartic and perhaps the subject of another post at another time. I am so grateful to have this monk, Benedict Baur, as my companion through rough terrain.

For now, dear readers, I’d like to ask you: what role does confession play in the cultivation of your own interior life?

Because of Bishops Like This II (A Letter to Parishioners)

A few days ago I shared a post about an allegation of sexual abuse that occurred on April 14th in the diocese my family resides in. I posted the press release of Bishop Richard F. Stika along with the 27-minute-long video of the press conference held the day after the allegation came to light.

Today at all Masses, as promised, a letter by Bishop Stika was read to parishioners after the daily readings. In the case of my parish, our pastor read the letter and, in place of the homily, offered a reflection on this particular incident. He also reflected on how there are actually three victims whenever scandals take place within the ranks of the Church: the victims of the abuse, the innocent priests, and we the faithful.

My pastor mentioned that the victim in this case had expressed surprise and elation that Bishop Stika handled this case so rapidly and thoroughly. He said Mr. Tucker also mentioned in interviews that Bishop Stika’s handling of his case is a model that he sincerely hopes will be followed by others throughout the Church.

Bringing this full circle, then, in the video below, is Bishop Stika reading the letter he composed to his flock.

Bishop Stika’s Letter to all parishes in the Diocese of Knoxville 4-17-2010 from patrick murphy-racey on Vimeo.

Did I mention Bishop Stika has a blog too? Check it out.

Thanks to the Support of Other Catholic Men

I spent Saturday morning at the Boston Catholic Men’s Conference in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in the South End. No, that’s not me at left. That’s Danny Abramowicz, former NFL tight end for the New Orleans Saints, author of Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint, and creator of the EWTN show “Crossing the Goal.” “Coach Danny” and his “teammates” were the featured speakers at the conference. What follows are my notes from their talks.

First speaker was Peter Herbeck, Vice President and Director of Missions for Renewal Ministries. On the topic of “Conversion,” he spoke of Easter readings in the Acts of the Apostles and asked how Paul was changed from a man affected by the circumstances of everyday life to one who was contented everywhere. Paul realized that the problems of life do not arise from circumstances but from sin. That, Herbeck said, is the message of Jesus on the Cross: “I came to put away sin.”

Sin, he said, is the drive to push God to the margins of our life. The martyrs, by contrast, went to their deaths in joy, refusing to bend to the powers that be. Their freedom of spirit “blew people’s minds.” Today, by contrast, the vast majority of Catholics live a sort of “Christian minimalism,” asking, “What’s the least I need to do to get to Heaven (or Purgatory)?” Mass once a week, confession once a year? This is putting Christianity at risk. Herbeck quoted Pope Benedict as saying that in vast areas today, the light of faith is in danger of going out.

John Paul II called us to lives of “Gospel radicalism,” to believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is acting in us today. To have a “total and radical” faith, Herbeck said, is like playing no-limit Texas hold’em with Jesus Christ and going “all in.” But we don’t do this, we bet a chip or two, because we are seduced by our culture. Look at the Archdiocese of Boston, with 1.8 million registered Catholics of whom only one-sixth (300,000 people) go to Mass on Sundays!

Abramowicz was next, speaking on “Transformation.” He began by talking of living the fast life of an NFL star and seeing his marriage and his own soul in peril. He entered Alcoholics Anonymous in 1981 and began to practice his faith more seriously.

“Coach Danny” said there are three types of people, represented by three circles. The first type has no Cross in the circle. The second type has the Cross just inside the circle, but not at the center. In the third type, the Cross is at the center of the circle. Then he described the “Spiritual Workout” needed to place the Cross at the center of our lives. This includes (1) having a serious prayer life, “stretching out in prayer,” making a daily appointment with the Lord; (2) running away from temptation which, he said, “stops fifteen minutes after you are in the grave”; (3) going to daily Mass for spiritual nutrition, the Word and the Eucharist; (4) quieting the chatter of daily lives so that we can be like Elijah, who heard the word of God “in a whisper”; and (5) gathering together as men.

Abramowicz ended by describing a heart attack he suffered in 2007. On the operating table, about to go under anesthesia, he prayed, “Lord, the timing’s not right here. I want to help raise my four grandchildren. But if it’s your will, I accept it.” He said that at that moment “a perfect calm” came over him. Then he asked the men in the Cathedral: “If that was you on that table, would you be ready?”

Final speaker of the morning was Curtis Martin (above), who took the theme of “Evangelization.” Martin is the founder of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), which evangelizes on campuses across the country. He spoke of the “dark cold spiritual winter” that Boston has survived and of the “new springtime” into which we are moving. He challenged men to take responsibility for this: “Do you think there’s another group of men like this in Boston, a group of men that God is calling? [Pause] You’re it.” Then Martin asked each man to ask, “What is God’s deep personal plan for me?” Martin asked us, “Do you believe that God’s plan for you is better than your plan for you? If Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.

Pope Benedict, he said, has taught that the purpose of evangelization is to address poverty in all its forms. “Lord, what form of poverty do you want me to address?”

Martin quoted Catherine of Siena, who told the Pope, “If you are what you were meant to be, you would set the world on fire.” The problem, Martin said, is that men are basically, essentially lazy. “The devil is counting on this one thing…. Many of us are paralyzed by fear of failure. If a man thinks something might make him look weak, he won’t do it.”

Martin noted that Hall of Fame baseball players fail seven out of ten times (batting .300). Those who succeed just have “the highest FQ” (failure quotient): They fall just as many times as the rest of us, but they get up one more time.

Martin ended with a quote from Benedict’s first homily as Pope: “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”

It was a great morning.

To Find Christ in the Grid

I seldom travel on business but Wednesday I did, a one-day round trip to Nashville. I had about twenty minutes to speak at a sales conference, and eighteen hours to think. Flying above the southern Connecticut coast in the early east light, I marveled at the land and river waters undulating away from the plane to the left, toward Long Island Sound. I turned from the view to my reading, the Easter edition of Traces, worldwide journal of Communion and Liberation (CL).

I became absorbed in a series of stories of CL founder Msgr. Luigi Giussani, who died five years ago. I also read about Russian poetess Ol’ga Sedakova, about the Turin Shroud, about an extraordinary man of charity from Ivory Coast, and about St. Bridget of Sweden, whose favorite prayer was, “Lord, show me your path and dispose my heart to follow it.”

Suspended 34,000 feet above ground, totally in the embrace of the Almighty, it is quite easy to realize the truth of these words from Pope Benedict, printed on the cover of this month’s Traces: “Conversion to Christ ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need, the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship.” The need, I thought, for Him to fly this plane.

Down there on the ground, the illusion of self-sufficiency takes hold, persuading me slyly that I do not need, that I am able to do and direct my own existence. Up here, I can feel my own fragility, my contingency, and look down on the puny scale of my ordinary life. It is ironic, as I thumb through Traces, to come upon a review of the George Clooney movie “Up in the Air,” about a businessman who escapes responsibility by flying endlessly. On Wednesday, I feel a different kind of responsibility by flying once in a great while.

Ridges of cumulus form over the Jersey shore, like drifted snow melting in the rising sun. In the lengthy article by Fr. Julián Carrón, successor to Don Giussani, there is a striking idea, repeated several times: Before “I tried to put what happened in a pre-defined grid” … Now “the grid is blown away” …”"I don’t remain in the grid, adding something” … “The risk of saying, ‘I understand,’ and putting a label on what happens, making it fit into the grid, is always lurking” … “Christianity does not fit into the grid.”

Below me now is the grid of the Appalachian chain, an uncountable collection of ant hills, an ant farm stretching toward the horizontal slash of a distant river, which cuts across the landscape as surely as Christ cut into history and is a presence here today. “The problem,” writes Father Carrón, taking off from Dostoevsky, “isn’t whether a cultured man of our times can believe in the divinity of Christ, but that without a cultured man, that is, without a man who uses all his reason and all his capacity for freedom, there cannot be real faith—one cannot reasonably affirm Christ, except as an addition to the grid, like a hat put on an already perfectly constituted ‘I’.”

East of Nashville, prior to landing, the grid has become a patchwork of fields, seemingly hedged off from one another, a bit like the tiny grazing spaces of the Aran Islands, cleared of stone slivers and walled off with structures made from those slivers. I do not especially want to be here, on a trajectory toward a 20-minute meeting that promises little meaning, instead of being happily ensconced in my home work space near Katie and within sight of my garden. But “Lord, show me your path and dispose my heart to follow it.”

We land in the grid—browner and drier from the ground than when viewed from above—with oil slicks layers on the tarmac. If any clouds are visible from above, they are only a haze here.

Later, I am sitting outside a Starbucks at the head of Concourse C, waiting for business associates to arrive on another flight. I am reading about the man from Ivory Coast more carefully now. His life was in ruins when he encountered Christ. Thirty years later, he has helped free 150,000 fellow citizens from mental illness and some from a barbaric traditional custom of being chained to tree trunks. Gregoire Ahongbonon was rescued from his former life by a priest and words from a homily: “Every Christian participates in building the Church, placing his own stone.”

In worshiping at St. Mary’s, in participating in CL and our weekly men’s group, in visiting homebound elderly parishioners, in teaching CCD to 4th graders, the presence of Christ can be palpable to me. But where is Christ here, now, outside a Nashville Starbucks, deep in the grid?

My friends have arrived. I guess I’ll find out.

Because of Bishops Like This

Yesterday in my hometown, the Bishop held a press conference. There was an allegation of sexual abuse from years past that just came to light.  No doubt the recent events in our Church are giving some victims the courage to speak out about the harm that unfortunately came to them from the most unexpected of places.

What follows are the opening comments of Bishop Richard F. Stika’s announcement to the press. If you have the time (27 minutes approx.) please listen to Bishop Stika as he fields questions from the local press corps. He very candidly and openly discusses the problem of sexual abuse and how these cases are being handled.  If anything, his remarks are an example of the beatitudes in action, justice coupled with mercy woven through and through with Christian charity.

Bishop Stika calls this crime exactly what it is, an abomination. The priest in question is being relieved of all duties, stripped of his vestments and the title of Father.  He will no longer wear the collar. He will be accountable to the civil authorites and like us all, to God. And he states that the paramount concern is for the victim. A letter asking others to come forward if they were victims too will be read at every Mass this Sunday in our diocese. I’ll be preparing to answer my childrens questions on the matter.

Webster once wrote a post Because There Are Good Fathers. Indeed there are, and they are legion.  I’m proud that this Father is my Bishop. But enough of my feeble words. Actions are stronger than words as St. Francis of Assisi proclaimed long ago:  preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary. This is one of those times. Bishop Stika, you have the floor.

I want to thank you all for being here this morning.

Last week when I spoke to the media about the topic of clergy sexual abuse, I was not aware of a credible allegation against any priest in the Diocese of Knoxville.

Knowing how difficult it is for a victim of sexual abuse to come forward, I want to personally thank Mr. Warren Tucker for his courage in bringing this allegation to our attention [on April 14]. I know that SNAP has been working with Mr. Tucker and I appreciate their assistance.

Yesterday morning Mr. Tucker spoke with our Chancellor, Deacon Sean Smith, and a member of our Diocesan Review Board. Mr. Tucker has accused Father Bill Casey, a retired priest of the Diocese of Knoxville, of sexually abusing him while Father Casey was pastor of St. Dominic Church in Kingsport between 1975 and 1980. At that time St. Dominic Church was a part of the Diocese of Nashville.

Following Deacon Smith’s meeting with Mr. Tucker, we immediately adhered to the process outlined in our Policy and Procedure Relating to Sexual Misconduct. This policy is available on our website. I have also spoken with Bishop David Choby in the Diocese of Nashville since this occurred when East Tennessee was part of the Diocese of Nashville.

Last night I met with Father Bill Casey, and he admitted that there is credibility to Mr. Tucker’s statement. Father Casey is ashamed of his actions and truly saddened by the harm he has caused Mr. Tucker, his family, the Church, and its faithful.

Prior to Deacon Smith’s meeting with Mr. Tucker yesterday morning, we had no knowledge of Mr. Tucker’s experiences, and Mr. Tucker can verify that fact. At this time we have still not been notified by McDowell County, N.C., authorities that an investigation has been initiated.

As Bishop of the Catholic Church of East Tennessee, I want to apologize to Mr. Tucker, his family and to anyone else who may have been harmed by Father Casey.

I am sending a letter to all of our parishes to inform the parishioners of these allegations. I will ask that the letters be read aloud at Mass this weekend and inviting any others who may have been harmed to come forward.

Our first concern is for Mr. Tucker, his family, and anyone else who may have been harmed by Father Casey. We want to help him in his healing process in any way we can.

I want to assure you that Father Casey has been removed from ministry and will never again function as a priest in the Catholic Church.

Press Conference, The Diocese of Knoxville, April 15, 2010, Bishop Richard F. Stika from patrick murphy-racey on Vimeo.