Thursday, December 31, 2020

An End and a Beginning


Each New Year reminds me of something the late comedian George Burns once wrote in The New York Times: “Growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I always looked forward to New Year’s mainly because it was the only thing we could afford that was really new. And we always believed that things were going to get better during the New Year."

That comment seems as appropriate now as it did when he wrote it. New Year’s Eve lends itself to both nostalgic and serious reflections both about the state of the world and about one’s own life, about where one has been so far and where one may be going in whatever time may yet be allotted. But a New Year is, by definition, something new, a gift freely given us that offers an opportunity for hope.  And, goodness knows, we are all in need of a strong shot of hope this year. On the one hand, the election is thankfully over and we can hopefully look forward to a new administration and a better future. And then there is a vaccine, which will likely be more widely available in the coming year – a sign of hope if ever there was one.

Even so, for all our attempts at holiday cheer, many of us may be marking the end of this very difficult and challenging year with more than a little anxiety. Speaking for myself, I must confess that, on top of everything else, I find myself at the beginning of this new year feeling lots of additional anxiety, as I prepare to travel, which is itself a very scary thing to have to do right now, to move on to what one might euphemistically call my last assignment. All transitions are stressful – more so, I fear, the older one gets. It’s not for nothing, after all, that we pray every day at Mass that we may be safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  

But, if the distress and anxiety we all feel as we begin this new year are real enough, so must be our hope, the hope brought us by the Gospel which we all share as Church, the hope we have been proclaiming this Christmas season, and on which we must all rely in all things and at all times, all the year round: the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our hope is founded and focused on Jesus Christ, the one whose birth two thousand and twenty or so years ago is the very basis for the calendar whose page we turn tonight. When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman – Mary the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church. He was born under the law – that is, he was a member of the Jewish People, circumcised on the 8th day of his earthly life in fulfillment of God’s covenant with his Chosen People. Born to a particular mother, as a member of a particular nation, in a particular place, at a particular time in human history, Jesus Christ has realigned all of time and given all of history a new and more hope-filled meaning, giving us a hope for the future we would never otherwise have had.

Time has always been very precious – precisely, I suppose, because we have only such a limited supply of it. By becoming part of our time, however, God has turned our limited time on earth into a time of unlimited opportunity. So tonight he invites us to receive this new year of our Lord 2021 – wherever we will be and wherever it will take us - with gratitude as his gift and to enter it not just with fear or anxiety, but with the hope that counts as one of God’s greatest Christmas gifts to us.        

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Saint Thomas Becket and Religious Liberty

On this Fifth Day of Christmas, the Church commemorates Saint Thomas Becket (1118-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury and medieval martyr.  Until 1960, the Breviary's second nocturn included the famous story of Becket's martyrdom in Canterbury's cathedral. It told how, when the priests tried to protect their Archbishop by barring the cathedral's door, Thomas opened it himself, saying, "The house of God may not be defended like a fortress. I gladly face death for the Church of God." In 1992, I was at Canterbury for this feast, where, after Evensong, the Archbishop of Canterbury led us in procession to the site of Becket's death, where an original account of the saint's martyrdom was read. 

Of course, the celebrant of that feast was Becket's successor but in an office and Church polity completely transformed less than four centuries after Becket's death by Henry VIII's Reformation. No wonder the Reformation removed Becket's feast from the calendar and destroyed his sumptuous shrine! Becket represented a pre-Reformation Catholic approach that envisaged a certain sort of partnership between Church and State. The Reformation successfully replaced that with the State in a clear position of dominance over the Church "by law established."

Nowadays, Becket is seen as a great defender of religious freedom. But 12th-century Europe and 21st-century America are very different in how they understand the relationships between religion and society and between Church and State. In any case, our contemporary American context requires us to understand how religious freedom is one constitutional guarantee among others and one occasionally in competition with other constitutional rights and social values.

Back when I was in graduate school, when we studied the U.S. Constitution, it was common to distinguish between 'successful" constitutional amendments and "unsuccessful" amendments. "Successful" amendments, it was usually argued, reflected an authentic consensus in American society. "Unsuccessful" amendments, although adopted and ratified, really lacked a complete consensus and thus failed. (One of them was eventually even repealed!)

Applying that framework to the 1st Amendment, it matters very much what kind of popular social consensus actually exists in regard to its provision that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. How broadly free exercise is interpreted and how highly it is valued  - especially in conflicts with other rights and other social values - will likely determine what that 1st Amendment will actually mean at any particular point in time. For example, in the famous conflict over polygamy, which led in effect to a persecution of the Mormon Church in the United States (until the Mormon Church gave in and changed its doctrine), society's valuation of monogamy clearly took precedence over both the letter and the spirit of the 1st Amendment. 

All this is relevant because we are seeing a certain shift in our society as religious liberty is increasingly seen as in conflict with other rights which society is increasingly disposed to defend. Those who purport to be defenders of religious liberty need to be aware of this and sensitive to it - and to examine their consciences carefully as to their actual motives when making religious liberty claims. When religious liberty is invoked in contexts where it seems to be opposed to the state's legitimate interest in protecting public health or where it seems to many to many to be more like a license to discriminate, it will have a much higher bar to meet to maintain popular support. If the contrary claims of other rights increasingly appear more plausible to more and more people, the long-term fundamental consensus on religious freedom, which is so essential, will be increasingly endangered.

Becket's challenge to today's Church is not primarily to carve out privileged statuses for religious entities, a strategy suitable for his era but obviously less so for ours. Today's challenge rather is to convince our culture of religious liberty's centrality for authentic human dignity and how it can be harmonized with strong and effective government and the recognized rights of others in our constitutional system

And, whatever else we do, let Becket's own words never be forgotten, "The house of God may not be defended like a fortress."

(Photo: Freedom of Worship, one of the series of four 1943 oil paintings by Norman Rockwell, reproduced that year in The Saturday Evening Post, depicting "the Four Freedoms," identified by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his January 1941 State of the Union Address.)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Holy Family


The feast of the Holy family is a modern invention – much like the 19th and 20th century nuclear family it may seem to some to romanticize.

Families come in all kinds and shapes and sizes, and the forms family takes have evolved over time, and have evolved especially dramatically in our own lifetimes. That said, everyone begins life, biologically at least, as a member of a family. And family life in some form has almost universally been the basic unit of social organization, and for most people the focus of their day-to-day lives. Even those of us without families of our own treasure our extended family connections and family-like connections – something so many of us have had to do without during this year of pandemic when we have been unable to visit and gather and travel.

One of the striking things about God’s relationship with the human race, as revealed in both the Old and the New Testaments, is how it is largely a series of family stories - beginning with the creation of a family, from whom the whole human race is descended. After several generations, during which things seem to go from bad to worse, God singles out one particular family to be his agent for renewing his promise to the entire human race. The rest of the Old Testament follows the story of God’s promises to Abraham’s and Sarah’s descendants, culminating, in the New Testament, in the homeless, refugee immigrant family, known to us today as “the Holy Family.”

We’re all familiar with countless artistic portrayals of the Holy Family. It’s safe to say there are probably more portraits of the Holy Family than of any other family. And, of course, we have them here on display in the familiar Christmas scene, a custom that Saint Francis started at Christmas in 1223, after which, so the story goes, “everyone went home with joy.” Such nativity scenes invite us to appreciate the circumstances of Christ’s birth, to consider the concrete reality of God becoming one of us, a human being like ourselves. “The nativity scene.”  Pope Francis has reminded us, “is like a living gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture.”

Nativity scenes are also somewhat artificial, however. The figures appear frozen in time. All the participants who came and went at different times in the actual story all appear together and seem stuck in one moment. And, of course, we have so sentimentalized the story that we forget that we are looking at a far from optimal setting in which to give birth under obviously sub-standard conditions.

And yet, if we but read the Christmas story as told by the gospels without passing it though the filters of holiday sentimentality, if we read it as it was originally written to be read, then what do we find? A young unmarried girl is inexplicably pregnant. Her fiancĂ© marries her anyway, based on a dream he had. She gives birth far from home, in a cave, with some animals for company and some strangers for visitors. In the ancient world – indeed for much of human history in most of the world – childbirth was a dangerous, life-threatening experience. Assuming mother and child both made it safely through that, there were further threats in the form of diseases that carried away both rich and poor. And, of course, most people were poor, and so everyone in a typical family – adults and children – lived close to the margin, often hungry or in danger of becoming so. And if you were poor – then as now - you were almost certainly also politically powerless, and that could pose problems too – as it definitely did for the Holy Family, when Jesus’ very life was soon threatened by political violence and his family forced to seek asylum as political refugees.

Many families – now as then – have experienced similar problems. The Incarnation wasn’t some sentimental novel.  God became one of us, part of our world, a member of a family, a family struggling to make ends meet from crisis to crisis.

“Crises,” as Pope Francis recently reminded us, “are present everywhere and in every age of history, involving ideologies, politics, the economy, technology, ecology and religion. A crisis … appears as an extraordinary event that always creates a sense of trepidation, anxiety, upset and uncertainty in the face of decisions to be made[Address to the Roman Curia, December 21, 2020, 5]

I remember a friend of mine, talking to me about the challenges of being a parent, saying that he thought the fact that the human race has survived at all is itself a tribute to how families have struggled, stuck together, and pulled through.

It is by sticking together for the common good that the human race will hopefully somehow pull through this terrible pandemic that has been the defining crisis of this past year.

But, if the Incarnation means that in the Holy Family God himself has experienced and identified himself with our lifelong stresses and insecurities, then the corollary also follows from that – that God is present with us too, to sustain us in our stresses and insecurities. And we too have God’s word directing us to stick together and support one another – in good times and bad.

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN December 27, 2020.

The entire Mass may be watched at:

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Washington Follies

Just when one thought this crazy year was finally being put behind, with a better one on its way, our clown car president has created yet more chaos for our dysfunctional government to try to resolve. First, he vetoed the annual Defense Appropriation Act - a bizarre act of pettiness which will, however, likely be overridden by Congress next week. More problematic is his opposition to the coronavirus relief bill. He is, in fact, quite correct that the individual checks should be $2000 instead of the miserly $600 produced by the congressional compromise. (For all the praise compromise gets, usually it is a let down.) But, of course, he should have told his Republican sycophants in the Congress that ages ago and played his proper part in the negotiations, instead of ignoring his job while fantasizing about overturning the election. Now, his opposition could prove quite catastrophic - if, for example, he "pocket vetoes" the bill, thus not giving Congress a chance to repass it before its term ends on January 3, and leaving us with nothing. Millions of his suffering fellow-citizens were depending on this bill, which provided for unemployment benefits and eviction protections as well as the $600 checks. Meanwhile, he could also trigger a government shutdown!

While not ignoring these important issues that actually matter for ordinary people, the elites and the media have unsurprisingly been devoting as much or more energy to lamenting the president's latest sprees of pardons. Let's stipulate at the outset that the president's pardons are, as Senator Ben Sasse said, "rotten to the core." (The pardons issued not to the President's cronies but to convicted war criminals are particularly repulsive.) That said, a president's pardoning power is virtually absolute. So there is, as the Brits would say, nothing to be done. And, while here I am obviously deviating from prescribed elite opinion on this issue, maybe that is all for the best.

If the President pardons his cronies, his family, and even himself, then the nation will be spared the inevitable drumbeat of demands (especially from the Left) for federal prosecutions - as if the incoming Biden Administration did not have a lot of other more important matters to attend to, things that actually matter much more to ordinary citizens. When President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon in 1974, he did so in part because he realized that too much attention would be focused on Nixon for the next year or more and that it would be difficult to accomplish anything of actual substance in terms of the public's real business during that time. The same would apply, a fortiori, in Trump's case. The media, with its insatiable love for scandal-driven news, would focus endlessly on the pressure to prosecute Trump, et al., to the neglect of much more important matters.

Now I am not insensitive to the "rule of law" argument, but there is also another principle of democracy that is relevant here - one that has been persistently violated by Trump, et al., every time they shouted "Lock her [or him] up!" The criminalization of politics is one of the most repulsive - and dangerous - dimensions of our present crisis. One reason our peaceful and orderly transfer of power from one party to another and one president to another has worked as well as it has for 220 years is that outgoing presidents are not routinely subject to prosecution by their successors - unlike many other countries where the only alternative for a president or dictator is to remain in power indefinitely, because giving up power would mean exile at best or criminal prosecution, imprisonment, or execution at worst. If we do not want the U.S. to degenerate into that, then we may have to sacrifice "the rule of law" for the greater good of non-criminalized politics and the democratic peaceful transfer of political power. (It would also help, of course, to elect honest people and not grifters!)

Of course, if Congress has nothing better to do, they can still conduct investigations and hold hearings about the previous Administration. And, if the targets of investigation have all been pardoned, then they would have to testify, since they would be free from any danger of self-incrimination

Meanwhile, however, we still have a pandemic and assorted other social ills to address!

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas!


This past week, thinking about what I should say on this, my last Christmas with you all, I reread my homilies from my 10 Knoxville Christmases past. One thing I noticed was how much I repeated myself. No surprise, I suppose! How many new and different things can anyone say? And Christmas is, well, Christmas. We have been celebrating it for centuries. It is a very old story. What new is there to be said? Except, of course, that this has been a year unlike any most of us have ever experienced. So this Christmas is also unlike any most of us have been used to.

We see something similar in the TV Christmas classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, which I am sure most of you have seen, probably more than once, since its debut in 1965.  There, too, Christmas seemed to have lost a lot of its luster. But then it was precisely the retelling of the old story in its plainest simplest version - Luke’s story of the angel’s surprising message to the shepherds, the same story we just heard tonight - that seemed to say everything that needed to be said and so changed everything in the process.

Of course, people have been retelling - and adapting - the Christmas story for centuries in literature and, more recently, on screen. Everyone in the English-speaking world has heard of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Some have actually read it. Most have seen some of the many movie and TV versions. Dickens was such a great fan of Christmas that he wrote several more Christmas stories. One of them, The Seven Poor Travellers – about a Christmas Eve spent by the narrator with 6 others in a hostel for travelers - includes Dickens’ famous line: “Christmas comes but once a year, which is unhappily too true, for when it begins to stay with us the whole year round we shall make this earth a very different place.”

Making the earth a different place is something of a staple Christmas theme. After all, Christmas is, as Dickens also famously said: “a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time on the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.”

Yet we all know how difficult opening those “shut-up hearts” of ours can be at even the best of times, and these are not the best of times. This year, many of us will have no place to go or anyone to be with this Christmas. Of course, every year there are people with no place to go, no one to be with, no one to give them gifts. For many, this is a day to feel even more lonely or maybe more poor than usual. Hence the permanent appeal of every Christmas story that confirms for us the power of Christmas to make a difference – whether for Ebenezer Scrooge in Victorian London, or for Mrs. Hamilton in 1940s New York in the Christmas movie The Bishop’s Wife, or for the Grinch in late 20th-century Whoville. In my own personal favorite Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle gets all sorts of different people to believe in him and be reconciled with one another – simply by doing the sorts of things that all those other people should have been doing anyway but had unfortunately become incapable of doing on their own.

Christmas – the Christmas that unites us here together in this church today – challenges us (to paraphrase C.S. Lewis) to believe that, in a world like ours, the Son of God became one of us – and then to imagine what must result!

“Imagine” may be a problematic word. It recalls a famous popular song imagining a utopia with no religion. A better word might be “dream” – as in the title of Pope Francis’ recent book, Let Us Dream: the Path to a Better Future, in which, as its subtitle suggests, the Pope makes expansive proposals for an alternative path.

But he begins by exploring what this pandemic can teach us, the opportunities for change contained in this crisis. He calls Covid-19 "our Noah moment, as long as we can find our way to the Ark of the ties that unite us: of love, and of a common belonging." For Francis, sounding like a modern-day Dickens, the pandemic "has made visible the throwaway culture," thus enabling us to respond to what indifference hides, opening us to new and unexpected possibilities that "burst the bonds of our thinking."

In his book, Francis shares with us some very personal crises in his own life, and how he learned from each of these profoundly painful personal experiences "that you suffer a lot, but if you allow it to change you, you come out better. But if you dig in you come out worse."

Formed himself in the Jesuit process of discernment, Francis invites us similarly to see a time of trial as “always a time of distinguishing the paths of the good that lead to the future from other paths that lead nowhere or backward. With clarity, we can better choose the first."

Which brings us back to Christmas and those shepherds!

Thanks again to covid-19, we must sadly do without Christmas pageants this year. But we may remember, perhaps from our own experience, how boys often compete to play Joseph or perhaps one of the kings, but not so many try out for the role of shepherd. Remember how, in A Charlie Brown Christmas, it was Linus who was assigned that role.

Back in 1st-century Israel, shepherds didn’t merit much respect either. As so often happens with low-status jobs that provide essential services (think of so many front-line workers today), the shepherds were under-appreciated, and they knew it. They were also probably pretty poor (again like so many “essential” workers today). The widespread tendency to admire the rich and despise the poor – what Adam Smith (1723-1790) called “the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments” – was likely as widespread then as it is now.

So they were probably as surprised as anyone when the angel announced the Savior’s birth to them. And, to them, a multitude of the heavenly host proclaimed peace to those on whom God’s favor rests. For maybe the first time, the shepherds experienced a completely free gift, rather than another commercial transaction. The gift was nothing less than what Saint Paul, writing to Titus, called the kindness and generous love of God our savior. The shepherds were being invited to experience God’s kindness and generous love themselves, and then to share it with others. And, just as surprisingly, that’s exactly what they did! In the 4th century, Saint Ambrose of Milan (340-397) famously called the shepherds’ at the manger “the beginning of the infant Church.”

If none of this had never happened, then of course the whole history of the past 20 centuries would have been very different, even the way we number our years and count our centuries.

And, more to the point, we ourselves would be very different. As Saint Augustine (354-430) so succinctly expressed it: “If [God’s] Word had not become flesh and had not dwelt among us, we would have had to believe that there was no connection between God and us, and we would have been in despair.”

But instead, because of Christmas, we do have an alternative to despair! Hence the angel’s reassuring words to the shepherds: Do not be afraid! We heard those same words this past Sunday, spoken by the angel to Mary. We will hear them again at Easter, from the mouth of the Risen Lord himself, the same Risen Lord whom we encounter whenever we celebrate the Eucharist.

Of course, all those people all really were afraid, and for good reasons. And for all our holiday cheer, so are we, worried above all about a dangerous disease that has taken control of our world. I know I am afraid. In another week, I must fly to my new home, and I am quite frankly frightened at the prospect of having to travel at this time under these circumstances. And, even if there were no covid-19, we would still have a lot to worry us. We would still be living in a country bitterly and angrily divided along racial, religious, and cultural fault lines and long festering unresolved conflicts, a country in which many have abandoned long-established constitutional and democratic norms which we as a country once all cherished – all this at a time when anxiety rather than hope seems to be dominant in much of the world, menaced as we are by our changing climate’s hotter-than-ever summers, rising sea levels, bigger-than-ever hurricanes, and frightening wildfires – and all the economic and social dislocation these calamities cause. It is in just such a world that we hear and celebrate this ancient, yet so contemporary-sounding story of the birth of a baby in poverty, far from home, his very life soon threatened by political violence, his family forced to seek asylum as political refugees.

Imprisoned by the Nazis in 1943, the German Protestant pastor Dietrich Bohoeffer (1906-1945) wrote to his parents, recalling a Christmas scene depicting the Holy Family “amidst the ruins of a broken down house.” He wrote: “We can, and should also, celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us.”

It’s not for nothing that we pray every day at Mass that we may be safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our distress is real enough, and our anxiety about it is honest, but so must be our hope - the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

That is why we celebrate Jesus’ birth not with a birthday cake but with the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Risen Christ. For this is not some nostalgic holiday pageant, some “let’s pretend” denial of the problems that surround us; and the baby whose birth we celebrate is not some distantly ancient historical or mythological figure, but God-with-us!

We celebrate tonight what we profess every Sunday: that the Only begotten Son of God … was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man. This is the Christmas story. Tonight, we kneel at those words, to solemnize what we celebrate, but we say those words all year round. The Christmas story is the Christian story – our story – all year round. It’s the story of God showing up in our world and sticking around – to free us from fear, once and for all.

A Catholic church has graced the top of this hill now for 165 years. Back then, so I am told, the poor, unpopular immigrants who made up the local Catholic community at that time would walk up this hill for Christmas morning Mass, penetrating the gloom of night and early morning with the light of their lanterns. That is what Christ’s coming does for our otherwise gloomy world, what Christmas calls each of us to do here and now. And so, having climbed this hill to this bright and beautiful church and here heard the familiar Christmas story, this story of God-with-us, we must make sure that it really remains our story, challenging us, wherever we will be in Chistmases future, to be transformed by it ourselves – and so transform our fear into trust, our frustration into fulfillment, our sadness into joy, our despair into hope, our hatred into love, our loneliness into community, our divisions into unity, our rivals and competitors into brothers and sisters, and our inevitable death into eternal life.

Merry Christmas!

Homily for Christmas Eve, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, December 24, 2020.

The entire Mass (in which the homily was somewhat abridged because of the snow) can be watched at:

The homily was repeated (this time in full) at the Christmas morning Mass, whihc can be watched at:

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve! What a treasury of memories - seven decades full of blessed memories - come again to mind on Christmas Eve!

This will be my 11th and final Christmas in Knoxville. In my 25 years as a priest I have had three assignments, each of which will always have a special place in my heart. But I have especially cherished these 10½ years, the people I have served here as pastor, the experiences we have shared together, and the extra opportunities which I have had as Dean and Chair of the Presbyteral Council to be more deeply involved in the larger life of the Church in East Tennessee. Here on Summit Hill in downtown Knoxville, I have been challenged to live what priesthood is for what and ministry is about. And I am grateful to the Paulist Fathers and the Diocese of Knoxville for this unique and blessed opportunity.

Of course, 2020 has been a year of unprecedented stress and challenges for everyone. My mother was taken ill on Ash Wednesday and died soon after. I made plans to fly to California to celebrate her funeral, but by then the pandemic was taking over everything. I ended up having to cancel my trip, and her funeral was indefinitely postponed - an experience many have had this year as even the traditional rituals of mourning and their attendant comforts have become casualties of this pandemic. 

Soon all public Masses were suspended until the end of May, and I began my daily email to parishioners which has continued until now. Besides trying to stay safe, the practical challenges of pandemic-era ministry have been many. It took time to get up to speed on how to live-stream Mass, and we had to invest in expensive new equipment. Meanwhile, because of the pandemic, my term was extended through December 31, which also enabled me to celebrate my 25th anniversary in October in a more public way than I had originally expected - one notable bright spot in this otherwise lamentable year. (My 25th anniversary Mass was wonderful and may be watched at:

But now the time has come for me to take my leave and move on to “Senior Ministry” at the Paulist Fathers’ Mother House in New York City. On the one hand, a part of me would have much preferred to stay as I am and echoes the lament of Call the Midwife’s Sister Monica Jones: “Once it [the Mother House] was a place where I found my new beginning. Now it is where I will likely meet my end … without the purpose that comes from engagement with the world.”

On the other hand, I must also take to heart the words of Pope Francis: “The conclusion of an ecclesial office must be considered an integral part of the service itself … This interior attitude is necessary when, for reasons of age, one must prepare to leave his position … This will allow him to calmly and trustingly take this step, which would otherwise be painful and discordant … [and] to discern in prayer how to experience the stage that is about to begin” (Motu Proprio Imparare a Congedarsi, 2018). Striving to make that agenda my own will be my great personal and vocational task for 2021 as I enter this new and uncharted stage of life!

As we approach the end of this very sad year, when almost everything we took for granted seemed to have evaporated all at once, this terrible time which has so separated and isolated us, so divided and diminished us, and so shattered all our empty illusions of individualism, national exceptionalism, and personal self-sufficiency, may He whose birth we lovingly recall and whose return we hopefully await bless us all, and may our bonds of friendship be strengthened in this new year, which we pray will be a happier and healthier one for us all!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2020


Sometime today, the sun is stopping its southward journey at its maximum distance from the equator - a stop known as the
 winter solstice, which results (here in the northern hemisphere) in the annual period of the shortest amount of daylight and the longest length of night.  It is a unique moment best appreciated in stillness and silence, which (not coincidentally) is how Advent was intended to be observed before it became just another adjunct to Christmas.  

The ancient Roman holiday, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti ("the Day of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun", was celebrated at the Julian Calendar's Winter Solstice (December 25), the shortest day of the year, immediately after which the days being to lengthen. Some think that was a major factor in the choice of December 25 for the celebration of the Birth of Christ. Regardless, the symbolism of the Solstice has long been incorporated into the liturgical celebrations of the Advent and Christmas seasons. Likewise the imagery of the winter light festival has long been incorporated into the secular celebrations of the season. (Similarly, the Jewish feast of Hanukkah, although the historical event it commemorates - the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees after its profanation by the Gentiles - itself has nothing to do with winter or wintry darkness, fits in perfectly with the winter light festival theme, because of the way it is celebrated by the lighting of one more candle each night for eight successive nights.)

So December is nature's darkest month but has been turned into the year's brightest by massive festive illumination, both indoors and out. It seems designed to end the annual cycle on its most hopeful note. And what could be more needed today, as this disastrously dark pandemic year comes to a depressing end, as we remain for the most part still separated and distanced from one another even at this most convivial season of the year?

Let us hope that the slowly but steadily increasing natural light will illuminate oour way into a far better new year!

Friday, December 18, 2020


"The frenzy and the fury of the post-election period has laid bare the sheer idolatry and fanaticism of Christian Trumpism. ... When core biblical values are contingent, but support for Donald Trump is not, then idolatry is the result." 

So wrote conservative Christian lawyer and pundit David French in "The Dangerous Idolatry of Christian Trumpism" - in the aftermath of last Saturday's "Jericho March" in Washington, DC, that strange display of the Trump anti-constitution cult at prayer, peppered with MyPillow commercials!

French's observation reminds me of my favorite Trump-era Evangelical comment, that I have quoted here so many times - Russell Moore's 2016 warning: "The religious right turns out to be the people the religious right warned us about."

Events like the "Jericho March" would be profoundly disturbing even without any religious component. They represent the descent into anti-constitutional and anti-democratic fanaticism and conspiratorial political paranoia on the part of a far too large faction, fed by falsehoods publicly promoted by people who ought to know better and spread by social media. Such tendencies have long been observed in American politics and have been found at times at both ends of the political spectrum. But unlike, for example, some of the anti-constitutional, anti-democratic fanaticism and conspiratorial ravings of some elements of ultra-left's would-be "revolutionaries" in the late 1960s and early 1970s (when we were still spared the pernicious effects of social media), this anti-constitutional and anti-democratic malevolence is tolerated and even endorsed by elements of an established political party!

But it is the scandalous corruption of religion that was on display at the "Jericho March" that is so especially troubling. It ought to be terribly troubling to anyone who cares about the future of authentic religion in this country, in which at least one-third of those in the 18-29 age group are apparently now religiously unaffiliated. Meanwhile, is it any surprise that for almost two-thirds of Americans belief in God is not seen as a prerequisite for a moral life, when so much of public religion seems to many to foster the very opposite?

Particularly curious was the participation of some Catholic clergy in the "Jericho March." I did not watch it myself. According to accounts that I have read, however, one priest purported to do an "exorcism." (Did he have faculties to do so?). Another supposedly praised "the greatest president we've had." (No, he wasn't referring to Washington or Lincoln!). "Lord," he continued, "you have given President Trump victory over all these enemies, and we ask you to give him and us victory once again." And, appearing via video, was a former Papal Nuncio to the U.S., long since fired from that job, who has increasingly devoted himself to undermining the Pope (an odd position for an Archbishop) while promoting President Trump, and who promoted this peculiar politics poorly disguised as faith: "The walls of the deep state, behind which evil is barricaded, will come crashing down."

What is one to make of all this? 

On December 22, 1857, Servant of God Isaac Hecker had his first audience with Blessed Pope Pius IX, at which he. sought to share his surprisingly confident beliefs about Catholicism’s prospects in America. Pius was understandably worried about American political polarization (which would shortly result in Civil War) “in which parties get each other by the hair.” To this, Hecker confidently replied. “there is also the Catholic truth, which, if once known would come between these two parties and act like oil on troubled waters.” [“From a letter to the American Fathers, dated Rome, December 22, 1857]

More than a century and a half later, have proponents of an increasingly misguided "culture war" abandoned any interest in performing the role figures like Hecker hopefully once envisioned for the Church in America?

Photo: Statue of the "Divine" Julius Caesar, Via dei Fori Imperiali., Rome.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020



Volume 1 of Peter Seewald's, Benedict XVI: A Life, studies the ex-Pope's childhood, from his birth in 1927 and his early career as a priest and theologian through the Second Vatican Council. Seewald is not a neutral observer, but a sympathetic frequent interviewer of the ex-Pope. And his work benefits from his close long-term association with Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, and his immersion in the ex-Poe's thinking. If there is one over-arching leitmotif, it would seem to be the author's determination rebut the idea that Ratzinger radically changed at some post-conciliar point - perhaps 1968. Instead, he wants to show how Ratzinger was a real reformer at the time of the Council but in a distinctive, tradition-affirming manner.

Inseparable from this, the book highlights Ratzinger's Bavarian roots and the resonance of traditional Bavarian popular piety in the ex-Pope's personal development and religious formation, "an old Bavarian heartfelt piety, a faith that was charismatic, emotional, vivid and healing" - a world which, as the Pope himself later admitted, "was quite different from the world of today."

Personally, I have long thought that the trajectory of Benedict's career reflects this irresolvable tension between the pull of tradition (symbolized by his Bavarian base in Baroque liturgy and Mozart Masses) and the push of modern life and thought with which he fully engaged as a professor and then as  a Council peritus. Ratzinger found himself somehow straddling that tension, that constant potential for conflict. As someone who in my youth likewise fell in love with the Church in large part through her traditional liturgy, I found this section of the book particularly compelling.

One weakness of the book's approach is that, in attempting to address almost every relevant 20th-century influence, Seewald takes the reader on too many excurses into other stories, the salience of which might have been better presented in more abbreviated form. That said, while the author offers a detailed treatment of Catholic resistance to National Socialism (including, of course, Ratzinger's father's strong anti-Nazi position), these were for the most part heroic outliers. The deeper question of how and why such a society so easily and with so few exceptions fell under Hitler's spell receives somewhat less attention. And, while no one could have fully foreseen where such actions as the dissolution of the Catholic Center Party and the Concordat might ultimately lead, the broader question of how the Church approached the challenge of the century still haunts her encounter with contemporary political and social ideologies. Seewald does, however, quote Ratzinger as observing:  "Even then it dawned on me that they (the bishops) partly misjudged the situation in their battle for the institution. A mere institutional guarantee is useless when the people are not there who can carry it out with inner conviction."

As Seewald tells the story, which is evidently how the ex-Pope himself sees his story, fidelity to tradition and intellectual progress were complementary. Even as a student, Ratzinger was thinking forward: ‘We wanted to radically renew theology, and thereby reshape the church in a new and more dynamic way." It was a time "when new horizons and new paths were opening." The author effectively recaptures some of the excitement of the rising intellectual ferment of the 1950s and 1960s, even while he also recalls the challenges Ratzinger experienced in the German academic life at the time.

All this of course, leads up to the final part of the book which treats Ratzinger's influence on Cologne's Cardinal Frings and on the German episcopacy's participation in the Second Vatican Council. Of particular interest is how Ratzinger is contrasted, even at that stage, with that other Wunderkind, Hans Kung. Already, unlike Kung, Ratzinger came to recognize the Church less as concilium and more as communio. In a famous lecture the year before the Council opened Ratzinger asserted:

"All errors in this area are ultimately caused by applying a secular constitutional model to the church. That misses her uniqueness, which she derives from her divine origin. The Council is not a parliament, and the bishops are not members of parliament, who receive their authority and mandate solely from the people who voted for them. They do not represent the people, but Christ, from whom they have received their mission and ordination."

Throughout, while not downplaying Ratzinger's real role in moving the German agenda forward at the Council, Seewald stresses his view that "Ratzinger had never been progressive or conservative in the usual sense. Rather, he had always tried to unite tradition and and progress, history and the present, out of [what Hansjurgen Verweyen calls] a ‘mystical awareness of faith’."

On the other hand, Seewald says Ratzinger at the Council failed "to realize the consequences that the desire for change might have for the deconstruction of the church, especially in the area of the liturgy." He also "definitely underrated the power of a developing mass-media society."

And that is where he leaves us, with the Council concluded - eager for Volume 2 to come out in English.


Monday, December 14, 2020

Election Day

Today is the day - the day the Electoral College convenes in 51 locations to elect our next president.

The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;-The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;-The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President-The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Thus, the 12th Amendment to the US Constitution, which superseded the original provisions in Article II, in order to prevent what had occurred after the election of 1800 in which Thomas Jefferson (whose electors had intended for him to become president) and Aaron Burr (whose electors had intended him to become vice president) had each received equal votes in the electoral college, thus throwing the election of the President to the House of Representatives, which took 36 ballots to elect Jefferson.

No one expects anything like that to happen today. Usually, we think of the Electoral College as a perfunctory formality and the required count in Congress (set for January 6) a comparably perfunctory, appropriately dignified, formality. Today's vote is, indeed, a formality in that it fulfills a formal legal requirement, the outcome of which is already known. But circumstances this year, the unprecedented assault by the Republican party on our electoral processes, constitutional governance, and democratic norms, have made it anything but perfunctory. For the first time in probably a very long, just by doing what they were elected to do the electors are effectively contemporary heroes of constitutionalism and democracy.

Sunday, December 13, 2020


The familiar, traditional title for this Sunday is Gaudete, a Latin command to rejoice. Until 1969, today's Mass always began with the words Gaudete in Domino semper ("Rejoice in the Lord always"), taken from Saint Paul's letter to the Philippians.  Hence the rose vestments (in place of penitential purple) and today's generally cheery tone. Today's 2nd reading - from Saint Paul's 1st letter to the Thessalonians -  also commands: Rejoice always. ... In all circumstances give thanks. 

In our culture, Christmas is generally the cheeriest time of the year. But Christmas cheer is in much shorter supply this year, when so much of what makes this season seem so special – above all, gatherings with family and friends – will not be happening, or will be at best a modest shadow of their normal selves.

Of course, Christmas wasn’t even celebrated in the first three centuries of Christian history. So, when Saint Paul told the Thessalonians to rejoice, he wasn’t sending them a Christmas card. On the contrary, what is thought to be the earliest New Testament letter was written to encourage them and strengthen their faith, despite difficult circumstances. The command to rejoice, therefore, was not some sentimental slogan or holiday greeting, but was for Paul the consequence of faith in Christ. In all circumstances [St. Paul says] give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

Now, if Paul is right about rejoicing and thanksgiving being the consequences of our faith in Christ, then what other response on our part could possibly proclaim Christ and his Church – even (or perhaps especially) in our conflicted, plague-stricken, anxiety-ridden world, a world which, on its own presents precious little reason for either rejoicing or thanksgiving, a world which readily resembles one into which Christ has not come – or within which his coming is not acknowledged or has been forgotten?

Even before the pandemic, “the holidays” were becoming increasingly stressful for a lot of people. Talk about a conflicted, anxiety-ridden world without Christ! So absent has he become from so much of contemporary life that even the celebration of his birth becomes, for some, an occasion for stress and sadness! 

Christmas, of course, does have its sentimental side. (After all these years, I still tear up whenever I hear Judy Garland singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas). More pointedly, however, Christmas calls attention to the contradictions in our lives, and highlights how hard it can be to internalize the faith we profess, how challenging it can be to live joyful and thankful lives in the world in which we actually find ourselves.  Christmas commits us to that world, a world where other people make demands on us, and duty challenges us to care about things bigger than just ourselves.  

Joy, of course, the consequential kind of joy that Paul was talking about, is one the fruits of the Holy Spirit. How many remember the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which we all learned long ago in school? It was Saint Paul who first enumerated them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control [Galatians 5:22-23]. So the rejoicing to which Paul refers is not some transient feeling that may come and go according to shifting circumstances. It is, rather, a consequence of the reality and vitality of how we have experienced God’s presence and action in our lives regardless of our immediate circumstances – in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in war and in peace, in prosperity and in recession.

Hence, St. Paul’s command to test everything, for he understood perfectly well that not every happy feeling comes from the Holy Spirit, but only what actually leads us to recognize Christ and to act upon that recognition.

It was for a similar reason – to test whether or not John the Baptist was the real thing – that priests and Levites and Pharisees were sent to John from Jerusalem. John responded, as we might say today, by defining his mission – situating it not in reference to himself, but in relation to Christ. Then, he challenged his hearers – and through them us – to recognize Christ coming into our world in the here and now, and so to reorient our lives in relation to him.

At all times – not just in difficult times like our own – the rejoicing and thanksgiving of which Paul spoke, the rejoicing and thanksgiving that counter that sadness that corrodes our desire for God, do not just happen automatically. They happen when I recognize what a difference it makes to me that Christ has come into the world, and then act on that recognition through my participation in the community of his Church.

This Advent reminds me of a wartime letter the imprisoned German Protestant pastor Dietrich Bohoeffer (1906-1945) wrote to his parents on the First Sunday of Advent 1943: "Remember the Altdorfer Christmas scene,” he asked, “in which the Holy Family is depicted with the manger amidst the ruins of a broken down house? It is really contemporary. We can, and should also, celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us. I think of you as you now sit together with the children and with all the Advent decorations—as in earlier years you did with us. We must do all this, even more intensively, because we do not know how much longer we have." 

That is why we celebrate Christmas when the nights are long and the sky is dark, when it is a real challenge to recognize the light, while we hang lights on evergreen trees to testify to the light against the darkness. As I’ve often said, however, it takes more than a Christmas Tree to make Christmas. Rather it requires us to become Christmas Trees ourselves, to testify to the light with rejoicing and thanksgiving – so that the whole world will recognize the light of Christ present and active in his Church, and so see his face, and hear his word, and be embraced by his love.

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, December 13, 2020. The entire Mass may be watched at:


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Bush v. Gore + 20

It was 20 years ago today ... No, not Seargent Pepper, but Bush v. Gore, one of the worst, most strangely decided, and dangerous Supreme Court cases in my lifetime - indeed, in all of American history. (The "most dangerous branch" has made many really bad and dangerous decisions in my lifetime. But Bush v. Gore certainly has to count as one more of them.)

Bush v. Gore (in case anyone has forgotten) was the 5-4 patently partisan decision that effectively handed the presidency to George W. Bush, making him the first loser of the popular vote to be installed in the White House since Benjamin Harrison. It was an intrusion of the Supreme Court into an election dispute in a single state, an intrusion for which there was no obvious justification. (The constitution, of course, leaves the final adjudication of disputed electoral votes to Congress and suggests no role for the federal judiciary in the process at all.) 

Some might want to speculate whether, if the Supreme Court had minded it own business, we might have been spared the horror of endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and who knows what else. That however, is obviously speculation. Counter-factual historical speculation is interesting, but it remains mere speculation.

On the other hand, the damage done to the democratic character of American elections and to the trustworthiness of the Supreme Court was enormous.

Would the fear of future Court involvement in elections have been the weight it has been had Bush v. Gore never happened? Maybe more to the point, without the obnoxious precedent of Bush v. Gore, would President Trump and his sycophants have so confidently expected a Republican Court to rule in their favor, as Trump himself suggested back when Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat suddenly became vacant?

Whatever its faults, the current Court's two decisions this week denying recourse and relief to two dubious lawsuits may suggest the Court has actually learned a lesson from its intrusion into electoral politics 20 years ago. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Safe Harbor


“The court should not abide this seditious abuse of the judicial process, and should send a clear and unmistakable signal that such abuse must never be replicated,” argues one of the briefs rebutting the absurd Texas lawsuit that is asking the Supreme Court to exercise its "original jurisdiction" to invalidate the votes of the citizens of four other states, which just happen to be the states that won the election for President-Elect Joe Biden, making possible the forthcoming eviction of Donald Trump from the White House.

Sedition is a strong word. I first learned it when I learned about the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts in school. Whether it is exactly the right word to describe what the Republicans have been doing can be debated. What is indisputable. however, is that this and all the other efforts to undermine constitutional government and democratic norms are perhaps the greatest threat to the fundamentals of our political system since the Civil War.

That the Republican Party is a fundamentally destructive force has been increasingly evident since the disastrous election of 1980. The fact that since 1988 that party has been able to win the popular vote in a presidential election only once (2004) and has lost it the remaining six elections suggests a growing awareness on the part of many Americans that the Republican party is increasingly inimical to the well being of most Americans. The Republican party's increasing abandonment of a commitment to constitutional governance and democratic norms  in its unseemly effort to acquire and maintain political represents an abandonment of the very premise of a political party in a constitutional order.  This is the ultimate danger of faction, so feared by the Founders who were so well schooled in how historically popular governments had been brought down in the past.

This past Tuesday was the so-called "Safe Harbor" Day. Theoretically, all the states have certified their election results, and the way is clear for the electors to meet next Monday to do their 12th amendment duty. After that all that remains is for the Congress to count the electors' cotes on January 6. 

Given what we have seen so far, it seems not unlikely that, even if the Supreme Court gives this Texas lawsuit the short shrift it so eminently deserves, those unwilling to accept constitutional governance and democratic norms will engage in various antics in Congress on January 6.  Behavior Americans once perhaps too proudly dismissed as that of "Banana Republics" in the "Third World" will now be on display under the Capitol Dome.

Meanwhile the Republican Party seems determined to continue its tragic trajectory. 

And, while I have never been a big fan of federalism, I am increasingly grateful for the decentralized character of the American electoral process, which has protected us from clownish coup attempts. Even so, who can guarantee that the next time those plotting ot overturn the peoples' votes might turn out to be more competent?

As for the Electoral College, recent history has made it clear that it has outlived its usefulness. It remains the case, however, as I once argued as a college freshman in 1968, that it does provide finality. Once cast and counted, the electors' votes are decisive. And that this year may be its greatest service.

Sunday, December 6, 2020



In The Wizard of Oz, the Good Witch wisely advised Dorothy “to begin at the beginning.” That is what the Church does today as it announces: The beginning of the gospel [that is, the “good news”] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God [Mark 1:1]. We are, literally, at the title page of Mark’s Gospel, a title that tells us the central facts of the Christian story. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, God’s Anointed One. In Jesus, God himself has come among us. And it’s all good news.

All the more noteworthy, then, that the story doesn’t actually start with Jesus, but begins instead with John the Baptist, who appeared in the desert, as if out of nowhere. Every year at this time, the Church takes John the Baptist out of storage, so he can outshout the deafening din of our everyday noise and (at, least in more normal, non-pandemic times) our holiday pandemonium, with his ancient but ever timely warning, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

Actually, on this 2nd Sunday of Advent, the good news comes to us in three voices. First, there is Isaiah, Advent’s pre-eminent prophet. Times were tough in Israel – her capital in ruins, her Temple destroyed - when Isaiah spoke the consoling words we just heard. Just when everything seemed so hopeless, the prophet proclaimed glad tidings and good news. It’s enough to make you sit up and pay attention. Like a shepherd the Lord feeds his flock. When you’re hungry – and we’re all hungry for something – the promise of being fed, as a shepherd feeds his flock, that’s good news indeed!

Then there is the actual voice of one crying out in the desert. For most of us, I suspect, John the Baptist seems a somewhat mysterious, elusive figure. He appears, ever so briefly, as a kind of warm-up act at the beginning of Jesus’ public life. Then, when we’ve barely even gotten to know him, he gets himself arrested – and is soon dead. Were we today to encounter such an apparently odd-looking character, clothed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey, chances are that many – maybe most - might try to ignore him. Fortunately, that did not happen the first time John’s jarring message was heard in the land.

Meanwhile, sandwiched in between Isaiah and John, and so easy to overlook, we hear Peter, speaking for the Church, proposing our response.

And like the Israelites in exile and like those early Christians to whom Peter wrote, we wonder what this all means. Like Isaiah and John, Peter had to respond to the tension – the personal and social stress – of being in-between, of being between the challenging and perplexing present in which we confusingly find ourselves and the promising future for which we have been taught to hope.

Living in that in-between may be no easier for us than for those Peter was addressing. Our contemporary way of life with its ultra-fast pace and information overload is sort of like a collective case of attention-deficit-disorder. Thanks to this pandemic and all the other problems it has highlighted so dramatically, we are also obviously a civilization in severe distress. And we may be even less able to see our way through, thanks to our technologically induced impatience.

But God is patient with us, Peter assures us. And so, he asks us to ask ourselves, what sort of persons ought we to be, here and now, in this in-between time, while we wait not just for Christmas morning and the presents we hope to find under our tree, but for that endless Christmas dinner our entire life is a preparation for?

As for John, we are told the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were baptized by him. What, one wonders, did they see in John that we might be more tempted to ignore? Whatever they saw, the point is that they listened and acted. When we hear him now, our task too is to listen – so as to act on what we hear.

So, however shrill John may sound to our super sensitive ears, attuned as we are to very different kinds of marketing appeals, we need now to hear his call as an invitation to the true blessing that Christmas offers.

John’s mission, as clarified by the Gospel’s reference back to Isaiah’s prophecy [Isaiah 40:1-5], was about filling in valleys, leveling mountains and hills, and repairing whatever is rugged and rough – picturesque, ancient imagery that suggests fixing things.  For us it suggests facing up to all those gaps and flaws and failings and sins in our personal lives, in our relationships, in our work, in our country, and in our world, and allowing God to guide us in fixing them.

It’s a challenge we may be tempted to try to evade – the way for years now we have been evading fixing our real and present social and environmental and public health problems.

Advent challenges us instead to set aside our self-destructive habits and behavior and instead internalize John the Baptist’s invitation in every aspect of our lives and so bring John the Baptist’s message into the very heart of our society – through our participation in the community of the Church, a community acutely conscious of Christ’s coming and eager to share him and so remake our conflicted, anxiety-ridden world.

Advent asks more questions than it answers. The answer, of course, is Christmas, which even now in spite of everything that has happened this year has the power to light up the world. How much brighter will the world be when we respond fully to Advent’s invitation, when the full reality of Christ’s coming finally makes a difference for us all?  Meanwhile, be eager, as Peter says, to find him - and to be found by him.

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, December 6, 2020. The entire Mass can be watched at: