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.

Because We Could All Use a Little Mercy Now

I was in Nashville Wednesday, but I did not stop by the Grand Old Opry, or I might have heard Mary Gauthier offer this beautiful prescription for what ails us. I offer this in response to Frank’s posts about the abuse scandal, including yesterday’s “conversation” with Gen. George Washington. I don’t know the answer to the current situation, but I’m sure mercy is part of the recipe.

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An Interview with President George Washington on the Scandal

I’ve seen some weird stuff recently regarding the current scandal embroiling our beloved Church. This for example. And this. Hunter S. Thompson said that “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Keep that in mind as you read on.

What follows are all quotes from the first President of the United States, George Washington. I wondered today what his thoughts would be regarding the current crisis facing our Church. Below are my questions (Joe Sixpack, USMC) and  President Washington’s “thoughts” on the subject, as I have arranged them. 

For simplicity’s sake, my questions are in plain script and the President’s responses are in italics. Here goes.

Mr. President, do you think it is appropriate for the members of the Church Militant, however painful this may be to them, to demand answers from our Church leaders regarding the current scandal plaguing our ranks? 

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.

Aside from the obvious expertise in theology and the daily practice of the cardinal and theological virtues, what would you suggest to Pope Benedict XVI as the main leadership criteria used for selecting bishops and cardinals to shepherd the Church going forward?

Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.

But given the shortage of priests the Church is facing, this may prove difficult, Mr. President.

Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.

Touché, Mr. President, touché. There has been a lot of rhetoric not only from the Vatican, but also from many news sources, from Catholic pundits, etc., saying what we the laity should or should not do, think or not think, about this scandal. In your opinion, what is more important on this issue, actions or words?

A slender acquaintance with the world must convince every man that actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of friends.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux would agree with you. But sir, many of us (our religious and priests too) have not spoken out due to fear of taint, or fear that changes may occur to our beloved Church if we confront this issue forcefully. Unfortunately, the saying “misery loves company” comes to mind. Why should we demand action on this issue?

Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.

Excellent point, Mr. President. Now, many have complained that other Christian denominations, other religious faiths, heck even the Boy Scouts, should own up to their own past abuse cases. Should we ally ourselves with these groups or “nations,” if you will, and make the plea that we are no worse (or better) than these other groups are?

I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man. It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one. Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved. It is far better to be alone, than to be in bad company. There can be no greater error than to expect, or calculate, upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

We need to face this ourselves and not blame others. Understood, sir. Here is my next question. In your opinion, Mr. President, why has the leadership seemed more intent on covering up their failures than they have on expending their energy to root out the perpetrators of these heinous crimes at various levels of the Church hierarchy?

Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness.

Ouch! That is painful to hear, Mr. President. Surely, as the leader of a powerful nation, that is easy for you to say. But we few, we rank and file members of the Church, in our poverty of both wealth and distinction, should we just keep quiet on this issue? Your thoughts?

It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a Free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it.

Then you see speaking out on this issue as a duty for all members of the Church, not only here in the United States, but throughout the world?

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.

Thank you for giving us a moment of you time today, Mr. President.

Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.

Amen to that Mr. President, a hearty amen to that. Semper Fidelis.

Because of the Answer to Question 108 of the Baltimore Catechism

Sometimes, my faith lets me roll with what life presents to me. At my college teaching job yesterday, one of my students approached me at my desk in the middle of class as students were revising their work. It was clear he wanted to talk, and he didn’t need privacy. Several other students listened in on the conversation.

 He leaned down to look me in the eyes and calmly shared his anguish over a personal matter involving a child, a custody battle, and a broken home that had been visited by violence.

I don’t know my student’s religious beliefs and he doesn’t know mine.  But I felt immediately a sense of peace about  this difficult situation  because of the answer to Question 108 of the Baltimore Catechism, What is hope? “Hope is a Divine virtue by which we firmly trust God will give us eternal life and the means to obtain it.” My personal addendum is: Hope is also a Divine virtue by which we firmly trust God will guide us through hardships on our earthly journey.

Whenever someone shares their difficulties with me, my first thought is: I need to be the face of Christ for this person. Yesterday I discovered something else about this kind of encounter.

Before I responded, what flashed through my head was this: I’ve taught this man for a year now. He’s in his thirties and a war veteran. He’s had his share of heartbreak and hard times, some of which I have read about in essays he has shared with me and the class. School was not always a place where he experienced success. He has no shame or embarasssment about some of the messier details of his earlier life, nor should he.

I asked him a few follow-up questions and then I told him, “It’s going to be all right.” Commuting home, I  mulled our encounter. It’s easy to imagine that I am the face of Christ to this man in distress. But had I ever considered that he was the face of a suffering Christ to me? He needed to tell me that he was aching because of the brokenness of the world. And I needed to offer him hope.

So now I pray for this child my student is so worried about.

We beseech You, O Lord, visit this home and drive far from it all the snares of the enemy; let Your holy angels dwell therein so as to preserve the family in peace; and let Your blessing be always upon them. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Thanks to Walt Whitman (A Few Words for Wednesday)

My sojourn in the wilderness lasted forty years, from 1967, when I left the Episcopal Church, until 2007, when I wandered into a Catholic one. Many things tried to pull me apart during those years, and many meanwhile sustained me. One of the latter was the poetry of Walt Whitman, which I used to memorize and recite while out walking, striding along much as he did 150 years ago.

I know, I know. Walt Whitman was both an egotist and a pantheist. Whitman was no Catholic. He was homosexual, too—although if we throw out every poet who shared that characteristic, we lose Auden’s “Ballad of Barnaby” and Dunstan Thompson’s “Magdalen” and (who can say?) maybe even Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty.” It’s a sure thing that with Whitman you have to pick and choose, but then the Great American Poet gives you the whole universe to choose from. What follows are a few of my favorite pickings and choosings.

You can dip into Leaves of Grass almost anywhere and find lines to inspire your faith. Here, for example, from “Starting from Paumanok”:

Each is not for its own sake,
I say the whole earth and all the stars in the sky are for religion’s sake.
I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough,
None has ever yet adored or worship’d half enough, 
None has begun to think how divine he himself is, and how certain the future is.
I say that the real and permanent grandeur of these States must be their religion, 
Otherwise there is no real and permanent grandeur; 
(Nor character nor life worthy the name without religion, 
Nor land nor man or women without religion.)

Whitman envisions America as a great Christian nation. Pantheist, Christian, proto-Buddhist, whatever you call him, Whitman lived in awe of the Creation and his poems inspire awe. Even “Song of Myself,” which is far from my favorite, has lines like these to ponder:

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven, 
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,
And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is a miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.

Awe at creation and skepticism at science are encapsulated in one of Whitman’s great short poems, just eight lines long and all one sentence:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer, 
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, 
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. 

When I was in fifth grade my family moved from Minnesota to Connecticut, and I was plunked down mid-year in a new school, where I was a fish out of water. My saving grace was being a pretty good athlete—and winning the public speaking contest with Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!”—Whitman’s ode to Lincoln after the assassination. But that’s not a particularly religious poem, so if you’re interested, I’ll let you look it up here.

Instead, I’ll close with my favorite lines from Whitman, the final lines from “Song of the Open Road.” The beauty of Catholicism, for me, is in the companionship it offers—of friends in my parish, of that great big fraternity known as the communion of saints, and finally of Jesus Christ. Together, we walk the road of salvation, leaving everything behind. That’s what Whitman describes at the end of his great poem. Perhaps you can imagine Jesus of Nazareth saying the following words to the Twelve. I hope I would have followed Him too:

Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.

Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me? 
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

Because We Need to Believe in Goodness

Today my heart is heavy. I was daunted to discover over the weekend what happens when parents are too busy, too distracted, too “successful” to bother rearing their children. The details are immaterial, but the consequences are clear: some children whom I have known since they were in diapers have lost their innocence far too soon.

I cling to my faith. After hearing Sunday’s homily about Saint Thomas the Apostle, I was planning to write about how Thomas’s doubt reminds us that faithful people doubt. It does. But now I see Thomas more deeply. When most of us think of St. Thomas the Apostle, we think of “doubting Thomas,” the one apostle who needed to see and feel Christ’s nail wounds to believe in the Resurrection.

I realize Thomas must have been one of the most loyal of Christ’s disciples. So anguished was he over the loss of his leader, he needed a concrete example of that “good news” in order to believe that God, in His infinite mercy, had resurrected his friend and thus given all of humanity the possibility of eternal life. He needed to believe in transcendent goodness. So do I. Perhaps Thomas, like me, was feeling weary of a world that sometimes seems beyond miracles.

Who was Thomas? We know he was a Jew, perhaps a builder or fisherman, who became a brave and loyal follower of Christ, both during Our Savior’s earthly life and after.

When Jesus announced that he was heading to Judea to visit his sick friend, Lazarus, Thomas admonished his fellow disciples to join Jesus on the dangerous journey. The other disciples were fearful of the risk for both Jesus and themselves. But Thomas prevailed: “Let us also go that we may die with him.” Ultimately,  the journey of Jesus to Judea and his raising Lazarus from the dead precipitated the Sanhedrin’s decision to crucify Him.

Thomas demonstrates his intense devotion once again at the Last Supper. Jesus tells his disciples he is leaving them soon for his Father’s house. Thomas raises an objection: “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus’ response gives us a perfect encapsulation of Christian faith: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

After Christ’s death and resurrection, tradition tells us that Thomas spent the rest of his life preaching the good news of salvation. He traveled far from home, farther perhaps than any other apostle, on this mission. He set up seven churches in southern India, beginning in A.D. 52. Legend says he carved a cross with his fingernails, a cross that bled for a century. St. Thomas was speared to death 20 years later in Mylapore.

To this day in southwestern India, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox believers call themselves Saint Thomas Christians, tracing their faith to Thomas’ first century missions. What a stunning legacy. In 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the San Thome Basilica, the site of Thomas’s tomb near the mountain and cave where he lived a spartan life as a preacher.

Nearly 2,000 years after the apostle’s death and more than 8,000 miles away, what can Thomas’s life teach me about the struggle to keep my faith in a secular culture that seems indifferent to whether its children are cultivating sin?

O Glorious Saint Thomas, your grief for Jesus was such that it would not let you believe he had risen unless you actually saw him and touched his wounds. But your love for Jesus was equally great and it led you to give up your life for him. Pray for us that we may grieve for our sins which were the cause of Christ’s sufferings. Help us to spend ourselves in His service and so earn the title of “blessed,” which Jesus applied to those who would believe in Him without seeing him. Amen.

It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (Music for Mondays)

What does this morning’s music have in common? Basically it’s only rock n’ roll, but I like it. Heck, maybe I just feel like playing air-guitar and singing some of my favorite secular tunes. Follow along with me and see if we can pull some Catholic perspective out of the following songs. Keeping in mind, of course, that these are just one person’s impressions. Your mileage may vary.

Stevie Ray Vaughn, The House is a Rockin’. Not much to explain here. It’s Spring and Our Lord has risen, and we feel like partying here at YIM Catholic! If the house is a-rockin’, don’t bother knockin’. No invitation needed, just come on in!

Kick off your shoes start losin’ the blues
This old house ain’t got nothin’ to lose
Seen it all for years, start spreadin’ the news

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Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter. I can hear some of you sigh and mutter, there Frank goes again. You know what? I need shelter, and I find it in the Holy Mother Church. Which means my soul won’t fade away either. This song works for me. And do you know the difference between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones? The Rolling Stones are still together and making music, basically ’til death do they part. I like that ideal.

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Bruce Springsteen, Brilliant Disguise. Look out for the false self. In light of the scandal imbroglio, perhaps many have been tempted to think the Church is a sham, a house of cards. Better look hard and look twice. Recently, and grudgingly even the “respected” news sources have to contend with the truth that the entire Roman Catholic Church isn’t the only game in town when it comes to abusing children. Just lonely pilgrims we are, but as for me, Jesus I Trust in You. Bruce concludes this tune with this wise line: God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of. Amen.

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Sarah McLachlan Sweet Surrender. Sarah, on the other hand, really has the right idea, I think (see the lyrics below).

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It doesn’t mean much.
It doesn’t mean anything at all.
The life I’ve left behind me
Is a cold room.

I’ve crossed the last line
From where I can’t return,
Where every step I took in faith
Betrayed me

And led me from my home

And sweet
Sweet surrender
Is all that I have to give

You take me in
No questions asked
You strip away the ugliness
That surrounds me

Are you an angel?
Am I already that gone?
I only hope
That I won’t disappoint you
When I’m down here
On my knees

Next up, Jack Johnson Better Together. I only recently came across this Jack Johnson fellow and really like some of his work. This song in particular works well as I pondered the Divine Mercy novena prayer for the reunification of Christ’s Church here on earth. See the lyrics below…

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Love is the answer
At least for most of the questions in my heart,
Like why are we here? And where do we go?
And how come it’s so hard?
It’s not always easy,
And sometimes life can be deceiving,
I’ll tell you one thing, its always better when we’re together.

Rush Limelight. Only three guys, but big, big sound! Yes, I am asking you to consider the universal dream, the real relation and the underlying theme. Guess what I think those are. See the lyrics below and have a listen.

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Living on a lighted stage
Approaches the unreal
For those who think and feel
In touch with some reality
Beyond the gilded cage.

Cast in this unlikely role,
Ill-equipped to act,
With insufficient tact,
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact.

Living in the Limelight,
The universal dream
For those who wish to seem.
Those who wish to be
Must put aside the alienation,
Get on with the fascination,
The real relation,
The underlying theme.

Living in a fisheye lens,
Caught in the camera eye.
I have no heart to lie,
I can’t pretend a stranger
Is a long-awaited friend.

All the world’s indeed a stage,
And we are merely players,
Performers and portrayers,
Each another’s audience
Outside the gilded cage.