Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why the Catholic Bishops are Right on Immigration

I’m not a regular reader of The Catholic Thing Blog. So cannot say how typical Brad Miner’s July 29 piece “Why the Catholic Bishops Are Wrong on Immigration,’ may be. I would not have known about it had I not seen it referred to elsewhere. So I draw no inferences beyond it. But I certainly can say that it is an appallingly weak argument for an appallingly bad position!

An example of the article’s poor argumentation is the implied comparison between the status of millions of undocumented immigrants and legal immigration and the implication of preference for Mexican immigrants over Swedish ones. The poverty of the author’s argument is captured in his silly question, “Are visas un-Christian?”

Now I have absolutely no idea how many Swedish immigrants come to the U.S. these days, and I certainly don’t know how many are legal and how many not legal. I remember that in New York City in the late 1980s there were lots of illegal Irish immigrants, for example. It’s a myth that all illegals immigrants are Latinos and that they all cross the border illegally. In fact, many illegal immigrants now in the U.S. are people who entered perfectly legally and then stayed after their visas expired. (Hence the absurdity of the over-emphasis on “border security,” which is really little more than an expensive stimulus program for certain constituencies).

Miner attacks the U.S. Bishops’ advocacy of immigration reform and their generally strong support for immigrants as a self-interested strategy to increase the number of Catholics. It is certainly true, of course, that the majority of Latino immigrants are Catholics and that it is in fact immigrants who have kept the Catholic Church at approximately one-quarter of the national population in spite of the loss of so many U.S.-born Catholics. It is, indeed, in the Church’s interest to encourage immigration and support immigrants once here. However, it is also the Church’s duty to look after its members, is it not? Moreover, the Church’s responsibility towards its poorer and politically powerless members is itself a subset of the Church’s larger responsibility to advocate for and assist our society’s poor and powerless, regardless of their religion. Two of the Church’s most noteworthy contributions to the quality of our civil society have been its impressive networks of educational and health care institutions.  While historically the Catholic school system has served primarily the children of Catholic families (in the past primarily poor and immigrant), Catholic schools today often serve significant non-Catholic urban populations. And Catholic hospitals have always embodied the Church’s charitable mission to all people regardless of religion or other identities.

Miner may be right in suggesting that Latino immigrants provide the Church in the U.S a demographic boost in the short term. He may also be right that the long-term prospects may be less positive. He refers to studies that show that in 1980 ninety percent of Hispanics in the U.S. were Catholic, but that today just over two-thirds are, and that that percentage is expected to decrease further over the next two decades. All that is interesting and important. But far from arguing against advocacy for immigrants what it ought to inspire is more rather than less intense evangelizing outreach efforts on the Church’s part to its Latino members. None of that, however, diminishes the Church’s moral responsibility to be of assistance to immigrants (of whatever religion) and to advocate on their behalf.

You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God (Leviticus 19:34).

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Chi sono io per giudicare?"

As the regularly repeated, if somewhat tiresome analogies - Rock Concert, Catholic Woodstock, etc. - suggest, World Youth Day is an ecclesiastical "feel good" event. You bring together a couple of million excited, energetic young people, and, of course they are going to have a good time. So will the adults! How often, after all, do a bunch of bishops in habitus pianus get to get up and dance? And since WYD is admirably free of the drugs, sex, and violence associated with some other youth-oriented events, it's really a win-win situation for everyone.
The challenge of WYD is not to create an exciting religious experience for those participating (old as well as young). In that respect every WYD since Blessed Pope John Paul II started them in 1984 has been a great success. The real challenge (as with all experiential movements) is to sustain the enthusiasm afterwards, in the hard slog of ordinary life when religion may seem less exciting and when there is so much else competing with it.
And that may be the most significant thing about the Pope's unexpected, unscripted press conference on the return flight to Rome. John Paul II, before he became too ill to do so, used to engage the press on his travels. So the event was not completely without precedent. But it was unexpected, especially since Pope Francis had given the impression earlier that he would probably not be doing that. In the end, he did do it, did more than anyone would have anticipated, and did it quite well. 
But it wasn't just that the Pope engaged the press and answered their unfiltered questions. It was the way he did so. Thus, for example, the "gay" question. As John Allen observed on the PBS Newshour last night, in what might constitute the first time a Pope has ever publicly used that word, Pope Francis showed himself comfortable talking in ordinary language. As Allen notes, he didn't introduce the term into the discussion, the questioner did (admittedly in the somewhat pejorative context of the so-called "Gay Lobby"). But the Pope didn't use some euphemism in his answer. He used the ordinary word.
The Pope isn't just anybody. There are times when he has to speak very formally and precisely using technical theological language. There are times when, like any priest celebrating the liturgy, he needs to employ a specifically sacred idiom. But there are other times when, again like any pastor, he does well to speak the ordinary language of the world. Doing so on the plane suggests an understanding of the need to connect the elevated experience of WYD with the experience of daily life - for people at any age.
Of course, it was the substance of what he said that got most of the attention and also most demonstrated a connection with the concerns of people today - and, just as important, did so not in secular but in gospel-language. Commenting first on the accusations against one particular Vatican official, the Pope said:
"But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one  looks for the "sins of youth," for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published.  These things are not crimes.  The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime.  But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives.  When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh?  This is a danger.  This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often."
Indeed, we must!

Then, returning to the  issue of the so-called "gay lobby," Pope Francis elaborated further:

"They say there are some gay people here.  I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.  They are bad.  If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and 'they must be integrated into society.'
"The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter.  There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies.  This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!"
Not only did the Pope explicitly separate being gay from the issue of the so-called "gay lobby," he also returned this issue to the ordinary realm of moral discernment rather than separating it out as problematically unique. 
The challenge of WYD (and of any religious experience) is to produce results that last and are in harmony with the fundamental message of the Gospel. In this instance, implicitly recalling Matthew 7:1 (Stop judging, that you may not be judged) may have been a very good place to start.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Becoming a Blessing

The excerpt we just heard [Genesis 18:20-32] from the Old Testament saga of Abraham takes us back some 4000 years to the heights overlooking the then great cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Those cities now no longer exist, because (so the story tells us) of the outcry against them – so different were their citizens from Abraham, who (recent immigrant though he himself was) cared enough for the established native population that he was willing to plead with God to save them from destruction.
For some, what stands out most strongly in this story is the picturesque image of Abraham bargaining with God, as if he were some tourist in some stereotypical middle-eastern marketplace. So strongly ingrained in the tourist mindset is that marketplace stereotype that some tourists, who have religiously read their guidebooks, feel compelled to bargain to the point of apparent absurdity. I saw that myself 20 years ago in my first Sunday in Israel. A group of us had walked to Bethlehem for Mass at the Basilica, but to save time decided to take a taxi back. Then the drivers stated their fares, members of the group started trying to bargain down the fare. Meanwhile, I did a quick currency calculation in my head and said to the priest in the group, “This taxi costs less than a subway ride back home. What are we bargaining about? Let’s just get in the cab and go!”
Foreigner though he was, Abraham was certainly no tourist – a pilgrim perhaps in a land not yet his, but certainly no tourist. And his relationship with God was anything but commercial or transitory. Just before today’s excerpt, God who (as we heard last Sunday) has just experienced Abraham’s generous hospitality, suddenly says he cannot hide from Abraham what he is about to do, because Abraham is destined to become a great nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him [Genesis 18:17-18]. In this serious debate in which the fate of civilizations literally hung in the balance, we witness Abraham already at work anticipating that promised blessing for all the nations of the earth.
Abraham is sometimes compared favorably to Noah, who (at least from what little the story tells us) had no comment on the fate of his neighbors. Abraham, however, cared not only for his nephew Lot and Lot’s family, who were then living in Sodom, but for the whole population of the doomed cities. For far too many of us, far too often, Noah’s narrow concern may seem normal. Expanding the boundaries that limit those we care about – expanding them to include others who don’t necessarily look or talk or act like us – doesn’t just happen. It takes some effort. Abraham, however, got it right – right from the beginning. In this he anticipated his greatest descendant, Jesus, who would intercede with God for the entire world.
Sadly, in Sodom’s case, only three were saved from destruction. Whether Lot deserved to be saved is a question. He seems to have liked his settled and comfortable life in the prosperous city and lingered when the time came to leave. But, for Abraham’s sake, God got him out in time.
The fate of those cities has never been forgotten. The prophet Ezekiel said they were proud, sated with food, complacent in their prosperity, and they gave no help to the poor and needy [Ezekiel 16:49]. Jesus used Sodom’s story as a warning. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words – he said to his disciples – it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town [Matthew 10:14-15].
In a sense, those corrupt cities stand for human civilization in its most advanced and successful state of development, complacently prosperous and comfortable and deserving of judgment – a salutary warning perhaps for other advanced and successful societies and for modern Lots who would likewise like to linger complacently in prosperity and comfort.
On the other hand, the story also suggests that for the sake of just a few innocent people God would have been willing to spare the cities. Unfortunately there were none to be found. If we, undeserving though we are, hope to be saved, that hope rests entirely in Abraham’s descendant Jesus, through whom all the nations of the world have finally been blessed once and for all.
The way Abraham insistently interceded for the citizens of Sodom says a lot about the seriousness of his relationship with God. After all, the way I ask for a favor always says something significant about my relationship with the one I’m asking the favor from!
Today’s Gospel [Luke 11:1-13] challenges to ask ourselves about our relationship with God. Is he a Father who can be counted on to give us that fish or that egg he knows we need even better that we may know it? A Father, who will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?
In inviting us to call his Father our Father, Jesus enables us to enter into a special relationship with God similar to his own – sufficiently similar that we can confidently pray to God as frankly and freely as Abraham did and Jesus does. Thus, we may become more like Abraham and ultimately more like Jesus, who by becoming a blessing for us enables us to join our prayer to his and so become a blessing for the whole world.

Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, July 28, 2013.

Friday, July 26, 2013

God's Grandmother

Today the Church celebrates Saint Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and thus the grandmother of Jesus. The Pauline calendar revisions removed her husband Saint Joachim's separate feast from the calendar and joined his memory with that of Anne in today's somewhat downgraded celebration. So today is actually the feast of both of Mary's parents, both of Jesus' maternal grandparents.
In terms of historical facts, all our information about Joachim and Anne – including even their names - is derived from 2nd-century apocryphal literature, notably the Protoevangelium of James. The account of Mary’s birth in the Protoevangelium has a certain obvious resemblance (including the mother's name) to the Old Testament’s account of the birth of Samuel. In the East the Protoevangelium was accorded greater authority than it was in the West, and there was a church dedicated in her honor as early as 550. Eventually, however, the story of Joachim and Anne was incorporated by Jacobus de Voragine in his 13th-century Golden Legend, after which Saint Anne became one of the most popular saints of the Latin Church. It was Saint Anne whom the young Martin Luther invoked when he was famously caught in a storm and fearfully prayed, “Help me Saint Anne. I will become a monk.” Devotion to Saint Anne has continued to be very popular in the Church, and she is fittingly the patron saint of grandmothers.

Grandparents are an important part of the social fabric. As family life experiences increased stress in contemporary society, grandparents are often called upon to play a larger role in the raising of their grandchildren. Of course, in earlier times - before the nuclear family became normative - grandparents were often on the scene in extended family networks and often played a prominent part in the care and education of their children's children. Growing up I had only one living grandparent, but she lived with us. My mother worked part-time. so my grandmother had an important part to play in how I experienced my childhood. I've often traced my lifelong interest in religion in part to her influence. Since she spoke no English, she was also a very vivid connection to our Italian heritage.

For most of history our elders were valued for their experience and wisdom. In contrast, contemporary society has seen constant change - especially technological change - which has seemingly rendered the experience and the wisdom of the old less useful to subsequent generations. Now that I too have achieved senior citizen status, I am acutely conscious of my technological backwardness; and (more problematically) I realize that the experiences that formed my values are not the same as those of today's youth, for whom my "wisdom" is irrelevant ignorance.

In his very first address to the full College of Cardinals after the conclave that elected him last March, Pope Francis addressed this issue. “Courage, dear brothers!” he began. “Probably half of us are in our old age. Old age, they say, is the seat of wisdom. The old ones have the wisdom that they have earned from walking through life. Like old Simeon and Anna at the temple whose wisdom allowed them to recognize Jesus. Let us give with wisdom to the youth: like good wine that improves with age, let us give the youth the wisdom of our lives.”
It is perhaps not the best thing - in fact, I am sure it isn't - that we clergy are so disproportionately old. A more balanced age distribution among the clergy would better reflect society and better serve the Church. (As a practical matter, it would also increase the Church's overall energy and give younger clergy more time to learn from the experience of their elders before being forced to assume positions of leadership).
That said, it is our reality right now, which we need to own. Even as energy diminishes and health becomes more fragile, we need to continue. But we need to do so in the same spirit suggested by Pope Francis - not just soldiering on, but generously intoxicating the world with the "good wine that improves with age."


Thursday, July 25, 2013


Walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela has become quite the contemporary fashion - even before Martin Sheen made a movie about it. All sorts of people - including non-Catholics and those of no definite religion - have taken to traveling the pilgrimage route to the shrine of Spain's patron saint, whose feast day the Church - and Spain - celebrate today. 
I have never walked the camino myself, and at this point in my life and state of health there is certainly absolutely no chance that I will ever attempt it. I have, however, visited Compostela and concelebrated Mass at the famous shrine. So I can somewhat imagine what it must have been like for authentic pilgrims past and present to have traveled there to invoke the intercession of Saint James at the end of their camino.
One of the original Twelve Apostles, James "the Greater" (so called to distinguish him from James the son of Alpheus) was the son of Zebedee and brother of John. Called early on by Jesus from the family's fishing business, the two brothers are frequently mentioned with Peter as the three apostles closest to Jesus. According to Acts 12:1-2, James was the first apostle to be martyred in a persecution by King Herod Agrippa, c. 44 A.D., the same persecution in which Peter was imprisoned by Herod but miraculously freed by an angel. (How James got to Spain and was buried in Galicia is the stuff of legend - a legend, however, which has inspired one of Christian Europe's most venerable pilgrimage traditions!)
In the Gospels, the two brothers James and John usually appear together - most famously in the incident in which the two asked Jesus to be given seats at his right and left in the kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). Perhaps that's what comes from being in the inner circle, from being among the most favored - that corrosive sense of entitlement that comes from being favored in society, what we see so often on display among those who are rich or otherwise attractive and regularly adulated for it.
The other 10, meanwhile, apparently neither accepted not were willing to cater to the status hierarchy advocated by James and John. Their jealous indignation prompted yet another instruction from Jesus about what his mission is about and what the life of any would-be disciple of his must therefore also be about. 
If following Jesus as a Christian disciple is to have any real meaning in this world, Jesus seems to be saying, then it must be different with us from the way it is with the rest of the world. This means a total reversal of the perverse value systems that make us exalt wealth, health, good looks, power, and the other symbols of status that we tend to be so enthralled by. As long as we judge ourselves and others by such superficial criteria, we will fundamentally miss the point of what the Kingdom of God is all about.
The fact that James and John went on to become great apostles and (in James' case the first apostle to be martyred) suggests that they did in the end get the point, which is the sign of hope in their story that the rest of us can in the end respond righty as well.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Summertime and the livin' is easy ...

Who hasn't heard that song from Gerschwin's Porgy and Bess? Who hasn't sung along - and loved it? More than any other summer song, it seems to capture the idyllic fantasy of summer. Still, it's just a song.

For me, summer has always had two meanings. First, there is the physical summer - a season of insufferable heat and humidity under the glare of what Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet famously called "the garish sun." Then, there is the psychological summer - a disordered time of no school, vacations, and the seasonal suspension of ordinary activities. I've never had any use for the physical sense of summer. I'll take winter over summer any time! The psychological summer, however, is more complicated.

Summer is, after all, the privileged time for vacation travel, and I admit I have had some wonderful summers "away" - Mexico in 1988, Israel in 1993, Windsor and WYD in 2005. None of these were, strictly speaking, vacations. They were all ministry-related and entailed a certain amount of work. But it was different work from ordinary work, and in a different and exciting place to be, with interesting experiences I would never have had at home. And, while I haven't been to the "beach" in years, I do treasure my memories of those 1950s summer days at Orchard Beach with my many cousins. Best of all, there is the "lazy" side of summer - less work to do or at least more time in which to spread it out, and lots more time to feel free to "waste." Grad school was that way. I remember those summers at Princeton in the mid 1970s. Even if most of the day was spent in the library studying, it was long-term study, not focused on work due in the immediate term. And even graduate students managed to seem more relaxed in the summer and so more willing to "waste" quality time with one another. (While air-conditioning has almost made summer physically endurable, one downside of it may be the lessening of that summer laziness, as now we try to operate more normally, doing more normal work in summer than we used to back when it was physically just too hard).

Certainly summer - the psychological summer - has some real merits, although even its merits derive precisely from its being a temporary exception to the rest of the year, a hiatus from the ordinary, ordered time we still associate with the cycle of the common school year.

For much of my life, the two summers - the hot physical one and the lazy psychological one - roughly coincided. School ended in mid-to-late June and started up again in early September. July and August were generally the hottest months and also the preferred vacation time. Sadly, global warming has not just made summers hotter but also longer as well - the physical season now generally including May and June, with the disappearance of spring also being one of the casualties of climate change. And one of the interesting challenges of life here in Tennessee has been adjusting to the front-loading of the psychological summer, as schools end in late May, and vacation time ends in early August. In the past, my eagerness to escape the physical summer and my emotional readiness to get "back to normal" at the end of the psychological summer went hand in hand. Now I find myself , at the end of a prolonged summer season, looking forward to getting "back to normal" in early August when there is still at least a month (and likely more) of heat and sun still to be endured.

Even so, what a great song Gerschwin gave us!

Monday, July 22, 2013

WYD Rio 2013

The Pope has gone to Rio de Janeiro today to celebrate World Youth Day - his first as pope, the first WYD in a Portuguese-speaking country, the Pope's first overseas trip since his election.
Since Blessed Pope John Paul II started World Youth Day in 1984, World Youth Day celebrations have taken place in Argentina, Spain (Santiago de Compostela), Poland, the US (Denver), The Philippines, France, Rome, Italy, Toronto, Canada, Germany, Australia, Spain (Madrid), and finally this year in Brazil.The theme for this year’s World Youth Day, fitting for this year of Faith in this era of “New Evangelization”  is Go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). The World Youth Day 2013 theme summons not just the young people of Brazil and those participating in World Youth Day but all faithful of all ages to respond to the Gospel’s call to mission, to live for all the world to see as faithful witnesses of the Risen Christ, who has promised to be with his Church and accompany us until the end of time.
I myself had the happy experience of attending the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, with a group from our Paulist parish in New York. That was Pope Benedict's first WYD as pope, having inherited the already planned Cologne event from John Paul II as Pope Francis has in turn inherited the already planned Rio event from Benedict. For me, WYD Cologne 2005 was an exhausting experience, to be sure. It is, after all, a religious jamboree geared for younger people. But it was and remains a most memorable experience for me - and not just for its physical challenges.
World Youth Day is a celebration of faith and an embodiment of the universality of the Catholic Church.  One of its major elements is the catechetical sessions conducted daily in particular languages. In Cologne in 2005 our group attended two such sessions – one in a large stadium in Leverkusen, another in a parish church in Dusseldorf. (I was in the confessional for most of the second session. So I missed most of what was said.)  For all participants, the third catechesis took the form of a pilgrimage walk along the bank of the Rhine River to the great Cathedral of Cologne with its famous shrine of the Magi, a vivid reminder of their journey to Bethlehem and a symbol of the personal search for Christ. The Magi’s words, “We have come to worship him,” formed the official theme of the entire World Youth Day event, and throughout the week, the story of the Magi was progressively unfolded. Meanwhile, all week long, everywhere one went, there were the crowds of young people from all over the world, packing the trains, filling the streets, waving flags, and chanting. For the final papal Mass on Sunday morning, a new composition, the Missa Mundi, represented each of the five continents (as Europeans number the continents) in stuyle and instrumentation – a European Kyrie, a South American Gloria, an Asian Credo, an African Sanctus, and an Australian Agnus Dei. For me it was a true pilgrimage, one I am not likely to forget, and I certainly recommend the experience to anyone able to go.

Every World Youth Day is intended to energize the Church’s inner life and its mission outward to the world. For some it may inspire them to embrace a specific vocation in the Church. (At least one priest I know traces his vocation to his experience of World Youth Day 1993 in Denver). May this year’s World Youth Day experience in Rio encourage many people of all ages to become committed disciples and enthusiastic missionaries of the Gospel whatever their daily work and state in life!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Martha, Mary, and Abraham

My deacons are preaching at the parish Masses this weekend. So I have no homily to post. But this Sunday's familiar Gospel reading about Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) - and the Old Testament account of Abraham's famous hospitality that the liturgy pairs with it (Genesis 18:1-10) - are just too good to pass up without saying something.

When I as in seminary, way back when, the well known story of Martha and Mary's sisterly squabble served as a sort of shorthand for stereotyping people (particularly one's classmates) as either "Marthas" or "Marys - workers or non-workers, productive types or early retirement types. One of my novice-mates even spoke of guys who worked to avoid prayer and those who prayed to avoid work! Needless to say, such talk had enormous potential for recriminations and resentment - just like Martha's complaint in the Gospel, Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.

Who, hearing Martha's complaint and feeling her pain, hasn't wondered: What was Mary's problem? After all, somebody had to cook the meal and serve it! Surely, Jesus and his disciples were expecting dinner!

A very important person once said: "Work is the rent you pay for living!" I suspect that's a sentiment Martha might have shared. Perhaps like some modern workaholic, Martha expected to be valued, appreciated, and respected for her work. That's actually a very ordinary expectation. But, as so often happens when Jesus enters the picture, everything changes!

I'm sure Jesus genuinely appreciated Martha's hospitality and did not disparage her efforts on  his behalf. But he could also look beyond all the frenetic activity on the outside to see the anxiety inside. I think he wanted to unburden her of that, lest she miss the whole point of Jesus' presence in her house.

It is, after all, a story about both sisters, both of whom are portrayed (in John's Gospel as well as Luke's) as loving disciples of Jesus. Here, the liturgy gives us a clue, inviting us to compare Martha, who felt so sadly burdened, with the happily hospitable Abraham (whom subsequent Jewish tradition would portray has having his tent open on all sides so he could see anyone approaching and so be ready to offer hospitality).

In Abraham, we find the perfect combination of Martha and Mary - the best of traditional middle eastern hospitality combined with total attentiveness to the person who comes as his guest. Recently, on one of the Gospels we heard Jesus tell his disciples to shake off the dust from any inhospitable community. Here, however, Abraham washes the dust of his visitors' feet, leaving them nothing to shake off.

Then, once the meal has been served, Abraham waits attentively to listen to what his guests have to say. Abraham offered food and drink and shelter and shade. His guests (God) gave him an heir and a host of descendants, among them the Word of God in person! God always has so much more to give us than we can ever do or give him ourselves.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Yesterday, the church celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Downgraded in 1961 to a "Commemoration," Our Lady of Mount Carmel has experienced the fate of so many other feasts and saints now reduced to "optional" in the contemporary calendar. Yet it is a feast I never fail to celebrate, not just for its inherent beauty but for the childhood memories it evokes.
For whatever reason, the Carmelite Order's special devotion to Mary under the title "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" became a particularly popular devotion in Italy and was carried by Italian immigrants to America as a characteristically ethnic devotion. Thus, the Italian "National Parish" on Arthur Avenue in New York's Borough of the Bronx, founded in 1906 (the same year as my own home parish just about one mile directly west on Fordham Road) was dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
That neighborhood still features its Italian market and restaurants, although the actual Italian population must surely be much diminished. In the 1950s, however, it was a bustling, thriving ethnic neighborhood, which featured a full-scale, traditional Italian street festival for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Every year in those days, my family would go to Arthur Avenue in the evening of July 16 for Italian ices and the other delights of a traditional Italian Festa, while Our Lady's illuminated statue made its way in procession through the neighborhood. Earlier that morning, however, my mother and grandmother and I would have already taken the bus to Mount Carmel Church to attend the Solemn Mass. Since the pastor at that time was a bishop, it was a Pontifical Mass - although, since he was just an Auxiliary Bishop, it was what was then called a Missa Pontificalis ad Faldistorium. Needless to say, it was the only Pontifical Mass I ever attended at that age. I sometimes trace my budding interest in all things liturgical to my youthful fascination with the intricacies of that ceremony, my eyes glued to the faldstool trying to keep count of how many times the bishop's miter was removed from or replaced on his head and even (when I was a little older and observed more) which of those times the mitra pretiosa was used and which of those times the mitra auriphrygiata. Those were the days! We shall not see their like again!

Aesthetics and ethnic reminiscences aside, the Mass found in the Carmelite Proprium proclaims the perennial significance of this devotion in the life of the Church:

"So intimately does she hare in the mystery of Christ
that she is still a mother,
continuing to give you children with the Church,
encouraging them by her love,
and drawing them by her perfect example
to pursue perfect charity.
She is the model
of all who live by the spirit of the Gospel;
as we look up to her in prayer
we learn from her mind
to love you above all things,
from her spirit
to be rapt in contemplation of your Word,
and from her heart
to serve the needs of others."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Newsroom Season 2

The HBO series, The Newsroom, started its second season this past Sunday. Once again, the acting is great, and, while it is certainly no Downton Abbey, the show is generally fun to watch.

And, once again, we get to watch the incredibly complicated news anchor Will McAvoy's personal and professional narcissism on display - posing as moral self-righteousness, in turn posing as public spirited journalism. And we get to watch the continued the personal and professional fallout from Will and MacKenzie's miscarried love affair, which in a vividly sane moment of analysis at the end of Season 1 MacKenzie herself had held up to her protégé Jim Harper as a model not to be followed in his own tangled relationship with Maggie. (MacKenzie's genuine personal concern for Jim's personal and professional well being is surely one of her  more attractive traits). MacKenzie clearly wishes she hadn't ruined her relationship with Will ever so many years earlier. So what stops them from getting back together? Individually, each of them has some attractive qualities, but overall one is left wondering (as I myself wondered in my post at the end of Season 1) why anyone would ever like - let alone love - either of them.

And, once again, the over-arching political and moral pretentiousness of the leading characters is balanced by the continuing relational soap-operas of the much more sympathetic younger characters. Are they much more sympathetic because they are younger? Are twenty-somethings' lives permitted to be a relational mess in ways we think more mature adults should have outgrown? If so, is one of the themes of the show that, just as in post-modern America, "young adults" are permitted to exhibit non adult behavior at a later age than would have been tolerated in any previous generation, perhaps the pattern is continuing up the age ladder. Perhaps no one is really ever expected to "grow up" any more. And what exactly would growing up mean in a post-modern world where relationships no longer sem to presuppose marriage and children? (Only Elliot seems to have a "normal" family life. Perhaps that is why he is such a seldom seen marginal character?)

For whatever reason, Jim, Maggie, and even Don all seem so much more likeable than their bosses. We kind of want them to succeed - whatever exactly "succeed" might mean. Now that Don has broken up with Maggie (having just so recently invited her to move in with him), will he gravitate to Sloan Sabbith on the rebound - now that her interest in him has been made evident? Will Jim actually pursue Maggie, or will Mackenzie's warning prove prophetic? And will Neal fall in love with that girl from Occupy Wall Street?
Meanwhile, as regards the show's political-moral takeaway on current events, will Season 2 simply replay the pattern of Season 1 or will it break some new ground?

As I observed at the end of Season 1: "The program wants us to believe that news stories like the debate on the debt ceiling really matter more than the Casey Anthony trial or Anthony Wiener's texting. I suspect most of the show's audience already agrees. A decade ago, when 9/11 hit after a silly summer of similarly trivial news coverage, there was considerable hand-wringing about the media's addiction to such stuff. But there somehow needs to be a better way of making that case than playing right into populist stereotypes about liberal elites who are contemptuous of ordinary people - or trying to make moral heroes out of people whose own selves seem as trivial as the news they disdain." Whether Season 2 will - or can - accomplish that is what remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, let's enjoy the show.

Much more sympathetic are the younger characters - Maggie, Don, and Jim - caught up in their seeminly inescapable love triangle. Don's actually not such a bad guy, but I at least found myself rooting for Maggie to dump him for Jim. That looked as if it might at last actually happen in the final episode, but Don won Maggie by "committing" to her. That is, he asked her to move in with him - and gave her a key to his apartment. Is a key the post-modern version of a ring? That's not an absolutely outside-the-box question, since Sloan Sabbith, the sadly single economic reporter explicity told Don earlier in that episode that she would regard a propposal of marriage as the true sign of someone's commitment. Apparently, marriage is just way beyond Don's imagination - or Maggie's expectations. (Sloan's belief in marriage might help explain her unfortunate singleness at least as much as her supposedly off-putting intellectualism and her supposed social awkwardness.) Meanwhile, Maggie's and Don's continuance as a couple seems to leave Jim stuck in an even more incongruous relationship with Lisa.
Back to the political track, the show seems to veer from an emotionally powerful episode (the killing of Osama Ben Laden) in which everyone seems to rise above partisanship and actually embrace patriuotism to totally absurd scenarios, such as expecting the Republican National Committee to accept a debate format the sole purpose of which apparently is to ridicule and denigrate the candidates while further inflating McAvoy's ego. One certainly doesn't have to like or agree with any of the actual candidates to sympathise with the young RNC apparatchik who complains to his older (more traditonally "moderate") colleague, "I hate these people. I don't know why you don't."
The show really is fun to watch, and it has some really engaging sub-plots. One such is Will's psychotherapy, which offers intriguing insights into his neurotically lonely life, facilitated by a well played therapist.There's the story of the tech nerd, Neal Sampat (who, of course, is also charming and sexy, as well as intensely intelligent and talented), whom one would hope to see more of in any second season. There's the corporate sub-plot about the tension between the high-minded news division and the bottom-line preoccupations of the parent company's CEO, Leona Lansing (superbly played by Jane Fonda), and her son Reese, who is presented as the unambiguous bad guy in the group.Of course (as every scene of McAvoy's Manhattan apartment reminds us), Reese's bad-boy greed only highlights the hypocrisy of the elite lifestyle enjoyed by McAvoy, et al, who even in this economy know absolutely no personal financial anxiety.
The program wants us to believe that news stories like the debate on the debt ceiling really matter more than the Casey Anthony trial or Anthony Wiener's texting. I suspect most of the show's audience already agrees. A decade ago, when 9/11 hit after a silly summer of similarly trivial news coverage, there was considerable hand-wringing about the media's addiction to such stuff. But there somehow needs to be a better way of making that case than playing right into populist stereotypes about liberal elites who are contemptuous of ordinary people - or trying to make moral heroes out of people whose own selves seem as trivial as the news they disdain.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Trial

It wasn't just the media's "All Trial, All of the Time" style of coverage that turned me off about the  Zimmerman Trial. It was also the persistent emphasis on which side scored the most points each day that made me want to watch almost anything else instead. Of course, a criminal trial is set up as an adversarial process - as are elections. But both are meant to be about more than that. At times, it seemed to me that much of the trial coverage was replicating the way we increasingly cover politics - all inside "who's up, who's down" stuff, with much less attention to actual substance or (in the case of politics) policy. That's the world we live in - the culture we have created for ourselves.
But now that the trial is over and the verdict is in, we would do well to be asking ourselves some other questions - not about the particulars of the case, which rightly or wrongly have now been legally settled - but about the kind of society we are and what kind of society we really want to be.

Do we want to be a society in which an unarmed black teen cannot safely go shopping and walk home without being stalked and shot?

Do we want to be a society in which an ordinary citizen is free to play policeman - not just harmlessly in his imagination or in video games, but in real life on the public streets with real world consequences?

And do we really want to be a society in which the plague of private gun ownership continues unabated?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Go and do likewise"

I've often thought there are few things more exasperating than asking a question and not getting a real answer – whether what one gets is no answer at all or an evasive kind of answer or (worst of all) instead of an answer another question throwing it all back at you. So I suspect the lawyer in today’s Gospel [Luke 10:25-37] may well have been very exasperated indeed!

After all, the question he’d asked was a perfectly legitimate one to ask of a religious authority figure: Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus, however, had answered him with a question of his own, putting all the onus back on him: What is written in the law? How do you read it?

Now the lawyer certainly knew his subject. Having had the ball thrown back at him, he took it and (as they say) ran with it – and ran rather well, judging from Jesus’ approving reply, You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.

Not a bad answer top get from Jesus anytime!

But, of course, the lawyer had answered correctly because he had been properly taught in the first place. Properly instructed in the Jewish law, he could quote it correctly and well. But the Gospel says he wished to justify himself, and so he demanded further clarification. The law says to love my neighbor as myself. OK then, exactly who is my neighbor.

This time, Jesus replied at length, but with a story, a parable, the one we call the “Parable of the Good Samaritan.”

At this distance of some 2000 years almost, we’ve all heard it so many times, that we already know the story. So we are not surprised when a Samaritan appears as the good guy in the story. So we call it the “Parable of the Good Samaritan,” conveniently forgetting or ignoring what a complete contradiction in terms a “Good Samaritan” would have seemed to Jesus’s audience.

Of course, our only experience of Samaritans is this parable and others like it. We haven’t experienced the way the lawyer and the rest of Jesus’s audience would have experienced them – as permanent ethnic and religious enemies (something like the way Sunnis and Shiites see each other today).

And so we miss the surprise in the story – and so miss the parable’s point, its invitation to think about things in a very new way.

And, as the title we give it suggests, we also see the story from the Samaritan’s perspective – forgetting that Jesus’ hearers would not have known in advance who the hero was going to be and would have heard the story from the victim’s perspective.

Let’s remember the point at issue. It’s a discussion about the law, the Old Testament law of love for God and neighbor. Jesus never answered the lawyer’s original question. He let the lawyer himself do that. We don’t need Jesus to quote the Bible to us. We can do that ourselves. But we do need Jesus to make the commandments come alive in our world – to tell us who is our neighbor.

The problem is that, like the lawyer, when we ask that question, we mean “To whom am I obligated in some way?” The ordinary logic of our ordinary world asks: “Is this man left on the road my neighbor? Do I have to help him? Is that something he’s owed – by me? In other words, what is the moral minimum that I as a conscientious person am obliged to do?

But, if you look at it from a different angle, if you look at it from the perspective of the man left on the road, then your question will be a very different one. Jesus has subtly shifted the focus from neighbor as an object of obligation, someone to whom something may be owed, if perhaps grudgingly, to neighbor as someone who acts on your behalf, someone who intervenes and saves, someone who comes close enough to touch me and become my friend.

As everyone listening would have understood, in an ordinary world both the priest and the Levite had legitimate reasons to pass by and stay on the opposite side. To do their jobs,  they had to be ritually pure, which precluded contact with corpses ( a real danger since the victim, we’re told, was left half-dead). The Samaritan, however, was already impure – just by being a Samaritan. So he had nothing to lose by touching the wounded man – nothing, that is, except his right to remain free and aloof.

But the point of the parable, of course, is that he did not remain free and aloof! The stranger became a neighbor!

Jesus’ parable portrays otherwise ordinary people in an otherwise ordinary world – in which nothing is ordinary anymore. It gives us a glimpse of how God acts – as seen in the actions of Jesus. The question for us is whether we want to be part of that new world.

To ask, as the lawyer did, what my minimum obligation is to another presumes we see ourselves as free individuals for whom the connections involved in community with others are a burdensome obligation to be kept to a minimum. That is the logic of our ordinary world – very much so in our contemporary world in which social networks and community connections are increasingly damaged and in decline. It was to counter that logic that this past Monday Pope Francis made his first pastoral visit outside of Rome, a pastoral visit of great symbolic and social significance to a Mediterranean island which serves as one of the primary European entry points for immigrants from North Africa, a site associated with the sorts of human tragedies that often threaten immigrants, where hundreds of migrants have drowned or gone missing in this past year alone. Celebrating Mass there on an altar built from an old fishing boat, the Pope lamented: "We have become used to other people's suffering, it doesn't concern us, it doesn't interest us, it's none of our business!"

Such is the moral logic of our ordinary world.

But the God who is no longer a stranger, because he has made himself our neighbor in Jesus, has given us – in Jesus – a glimpse of God’s logic in God’s kingdom.

And so, says Jesus, finally answering the question: Go and do likewise.
Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, July 14, 2013.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Utopia Reconsidered

Last week on July 6, there came and went the anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas More (1478-1535) . His stalwart defense of the papal primacy and the indissolubility of marriage are what made More a saint and what he may be most remembered for now. But before his martyrdom in his own lifetime, he was widely known in Europe as a scholar and the author, most famously, of Utopia - a title which has since given its name to a whole genre of literature.

Now few things could be more obvious about Utopia than its central and animating symbol - poverty.Every 10 years, the Utopians change houses by lot, but without any of the economic profit usually attached to selling one's house in our even more mobile society. Everyone on the island wears the same style of clothing - rough work clothes made with long-term durability in mind and a cloak the color of natural wool - and each household produces its own clothes. Possession of precious metals provide no tangible economic benefits. And the Utopians are attracted to Christianity because of Jesus' attitude toward possessions and because of the practices in regard to possessions traditionally associated with those considered the truest Christians.

Of course, there is a considerable difference between the poverty of the Utopians and the degrading poverty experienced by so many poor people in the real world. Indeed, Utopia itself may have been a protest against the economic plight of many in Renaissance England. Thus, R.W. Chambers, author of a prize-winning More biography (Thomas More, 1936), saw in Utopia a protest against economic and political emancipation from medieval tradition and an appeal to the king "To turn a deaf ear to the counsellors who would make him all-powerful" and to the landlords not to subject their tenants "to economic progress and the law of supply and demand in the wool market" (p. 131).

Of course, that early modern process of economic liberalization was a prerequisite for the development of our modern free-market, capitalist model. The specific issue so troubling to More in his time was the increasing enclosure of once common land. In The Human Condition (Chicago, 1958), Hannah Arendt called attention to the irony that the enormous accumulation of wealth in a society supposedly based on the sanctity of property had its inception in the expropriation of the peasants.

In the ancient world, Plato had organized his philosophy around the symbol of knowledge as an alternative to opinion, the Socratic symbol for the inadequate basis for conventional politics. Similarly, Saint Thomas More's early modern utopian construct was structured around the symbol of poverty, which he put in place of greed, the capital sin which would serve as the engine for modern free-market economics.

A  essential feature of More's Utopia is that his imaginary Utopians were not in actual want - however hard their workaday lives and however simple its material rewards. They suffered no noticeable lack of genuine necessities. They were, however, relatively poor in comparison with what might have been the case had they focused completely on developing their full productive capacities, in other words, if the production and accumulation of abundance animated their institutional philosophy instead of poverty.

More had no animus against work and productivity per se. Yet the symbolism of the six-hour work-day was obvious.

It seems Saint Thomas More took to heart the widespread human experience that abundance for some entails misery for many and spiritual scarcity for all.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Saint John XXIII

It was announced last week that final approval has been given to the canonization cause of Blessed Pope John XXIII (1881-1963), and that we can expect to celebrate Pope John's canonization sometime before the end of this year (along with that of one of his more recent successors Blessed Pope John Paul II). 

The pace of Pope John's cause may perhaps seem somewhat slow in comparison with that of John Paul II and some other modern-era celebrity superstars like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, but it is they who are the exceptions. In fact, in comparison with most causes, 50 years may seem a rather short interval between death and canonization. 

Even more surprising than the relatively rapid pace of John's cause, however, is the fact that the Holy Father has dispensed with the requirement for a further post-beatification miracle in John's case. Even that, however, is not completely unprecedented even in this modern era. If I recall correctly, the first native-born US saint, Elizabeth Seton (1774-1821) was canonized in 1975 with only three miracles to her credit - two for her beatification, but only one for her canonization (at a time when two were still routinely required). 

Miracles serve as a kind of external validation for the widespread popular devotion and reputation for heroic sanctity that cause a person's cause to advance in the first place. Through the recognition of a miracle the Church seeks external evidence that her judgment of a person's sanctity is correct. It is a good reminder that it is God who makes saints not we! And, while it is tempting, especially in the case of a pope, to focus on how he acted on the world stage and left a legacy of historical significance, the confirmation by miracle of a saint's intercession also serves to remind us that sanctity is primarily about the transforming power of God's grace at work in someone more than it is about noteworthy accomplishments during one's lifetime.

That said, I am very happy that John XXIII is set to be canonized. I am old enough to remember his reign on the papal throne and to have read his Journal of a Soul shortly after its publication after his death. His reputation for holiness has remained alive in the Church, in spite of the turbulent times and tragic divisions in the Church which began in the years following his death.

Unlike his more aristocratic predecessors, John was of humble peasant background. Having entered seminary at an early age, however, he rose rapidly in the Church's ranks, beginning his priestly career as a Bishop's secretary. A Northern Italian and a keen student of history, which he called "the greatest of teachers," he saw in the great 16th-century reforming Council of Trent and  in its implementation by the likes of St. Charles Borromeo (whose heart he went to venerate in preparation for the Second VaticanCouncil) an example to be imitated in response to the challenges facing the global Church of the 20th century. He was a man of very traditional popular piety and pastoral sensitivity, who derived spiritual sustenance from traditional devotional classics like The Imitation of Christ and from the traditional liturgy he inherited and celebrated devoutly every day. He was open to learning from experience - such as his military service in the Royal Italian army as a seminarian conscript and again during World War I, and his diplomatic service among Eastern Orthodox Christians and non-Christians in Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey and among modern secularists in post-World War II France. He enjoyed people and preferred community to solitude (even ending the tradition of popes eating alone). And, in a way that was obviously both very Italian  and very Christ-like, he showed how loved the world he was a part of and how he sought its salvation.

He seemed to love and genuinely enjoy the Baroque grandeur and pomp surrounding the papacy and had no trouble deriving suitable human and spiritual lessons from it. For example, when being carried on the sedia gestatoria for the first time in 1958, he recalled being a child carried on his father’s shoulders and connected that universal human experience with his spiritual mission: “More than seventy years ago I was carried on the shoulders of my father at Ponte San Pietro. The secret of everything is to let oneself be carried by God, and so to carry him to others.”

Monday, July 8, 2013


Today, Monday, July 8, Pope Francis made his first major pastoral visit outside of Rome - a pastoral vist of great symbolic and social significance to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Lampedusa is one of the Pelagie Islands in the Mediterranean. Governmentally it is a part of Sicily, but geographically it is closer closer to Africa than to Europe. Tourists may know Lampedusa as the site of some of Europe's finest beaches, but Lampedusa is also widely known now as one of the primary European entry points for immigrants from Africa (especially during and after the Libyan civil war). As such, sadly, it has also been associated with the sorts of human tragedies that often threaten immigrants - notably last month's sinking of an overcrowded boat bearing immigrants from Africa and the death of some eight of them. According to the UN, some 500 migrants were reported as dead or missing in 2012, and some 40 more are known to have died crossing from Tunisia to Italy this year.The Sant’Egidio Community has estimated that 19,000 migrants have died the past 15 years.

The Holy See's statement announcing the visit said that Pope Francis was “deeply touched” by the shipwreck, which it called “the latest in a series of analogous tragedies.” It announced that the Pope proposed “to pray for those who lost their lives at sea, to visit the survivors and refugees present, to encourage the residents of the island, and to appeal to everyone’s responsibility to take care of these brothers and sisters in extreme need.”

At Lampedusa, the Pope boarded one of the Coast Guard vessels used to rescue migrants in order to toss a wreath into the water in memory of those who died. He then returned to the island to meet with refugees and to celebrate Mass on an altar built from an old fishing boat and painted in Italy's national colors. In his homily during the Mass, the Pope said: "We have become used to other people's suffering, it doesn't concern us, it doesn't interest us, it's none of our business!"

That is obviously an important message at any time - but especially in this era when economic policies and ideologies are everywhere dramatically damaging traditional social structures and community networks and where even in our own affluent society we see a steady increase in economic inequality. It's an especially important message in the United States right now when sensible and humane immigration reform is being considered in Congress for the first time in years.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Kingdom is at Hand

Exactly 155 years ago today, on July 7, 1858, Father Isaac Hecker and three other priests founded  the “Society of Missionary Priests of St. Paul the Apostle,” known ever since as “The Paulist Fathers”– the first men’s religious community founded in the United States.  Three days later, the Archbishop of New York assigned them the care of a new parish on Manhattan’s west side – placed, like the Paulist Fathers themselves, under the patronage of Saint Paul the Apostle. In addition to serving as Superior of the new missionary community, Father Hecker also became the first pastor of the new parish, which gave him the opportunity immediately to start implementing his vision for the Paulists in a pastoral context.  Hecker’s vision of the mission of The Paulist Fathers was a monumental one – the conversion of America to the truth of the Catholic Faith.  He envisioned his Paulist parish as simultaneously a vibrant Catholic parish reaching out to evangelize locally and a center from which the Paulists would reach out in mission to the entire country.

Jesus’ action in today’s Gospel [Luke 10:1-12, 17-20] in sending the 72 disciples on a kind of practice run for what they would later be doing full-time after his ascension reminds us that evangelizing (as Pope Paul VI expressed it so well) “constitutes the essential mission of the Church” – in every age and in every society, in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries no less than in the 1st, in Hecker's America and today's East Tennessee no less than in the ancient Roman Empire.

Jesus, we are told, sent the 72 in pairs – not as solitary individuals, but in pairs. Ours is a culture which places a lot of emphasis on our private individual lives and freedoms. But the Gospel reminds us that we are not isolated, solitary selves, but a community of faithful people, formed by the Holy Spirit into one Church, the body of the Risen Christ, to continue his mission in every town and place. Jesus commanded his disciples tp make a difference in their world. So, if we really mean what we say we believe, then what we do in our many relationships and multiple commitments – in our families and among friends, at work or at school, in our society and in the wider world – must make a difference and be recognizable as such. Jesus expects us to be on the same side with him – on the side of God’s kingdom. Being on God’s side, having our names written in heaven (as Jesus says), frees us to join Jesus in making a real, recognizable difference in an always challenging, sometimes very welcoming, but also sometimes sadly inhospitable world. It frees us to tell – and retell –the story of Jesus, to speak his word to any and all, so we too can say to this world we love: “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.”

I’ve long been especially fond of this Gospel which was read at my ordination as a priest at the Paulist parish in Toronto, Canada, one of the many places Isaac Hecker’s community has sought to imitate the 72 disciples in the Gospel in  announcing : “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.”

From 1900 through 1954, for example, the Paulists undertook extensive missionary work in Tennessee. And, in 1973, the Paulists came to Knoxville. So summer marks the 40th anniversary of Paulist ministry here at Immaculate Conception University Parish. 

As a result, all of us at Immaculate Conception now share the mission of the Paulist Fathers in the mission of the Church. This includes a commitment to evangelization in all its forms, a mission both within and beyond the parish community to draw people of all ages and backgrounds to Christ and his Church, especially those without faith or without a consistent place of worship, or with fragile or minimal identity or connection with Church, or who have withdrawn from the community of the Church – all of whom need to hear Jesus’ message: “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.”
Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate conception Church, Knoxville, TN,
July 7, 2013.