May 2009

“perhaps the only entirely unselfish person whose name has a place in profane history”

Thus Mark Twain describes St. Joan of Arc.

Yesterday was St. Joan’s feast, although you would not have known it by attending any Mass outside of France.  I assume they celebrate her feast in France, at least.

Why is she not celebrated?  Can’t we at least give her an optional memorial??  She’s the patroness of France, for crying out loud!

(Do you realize how sad it is to celebrate your feast alone!?)

These days, when Christians tend to be spineless and relativistic, I think we need a good warrior to intercede for us.  And a woman who knows how to get things done, at that.

As the battle turned against her, those about her cried to the Maid: ‘Make haste to get back to the town, or we are lost!’

She answered: “Be silent! It rests with you to defeat them. Have no other thought than to strike!”

Yes, we need her. 

Scherrer - Entrance at Orleans

[and on a sort-of-side-note, with all due respect to Shakespeare… when was the last time God so obviously chose sides in a war?  Sorry, England.  God just didn’t want you guys to win.]


A day after one priest left the priesthood to which he had been called, I witnessed the joyful ordination of another young man who had the courage to accept the dignity and burden of his vocation as priest.

My diocese ordained a young Vietnamese man this morning, and it was beautiful– as always– to witness the transformation of a young man into a priest in the line of Melchizedek.  I couldn’t help but think of the former-Father Alberto Curié, who yesterday left the Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church, shortly after he was publicly caught in an affair with a woman.

The Father Cutié scandal disturbed me greatly– not even so much that he was so publicly and scandalously caught in his affair, but that he has abandoned his vocation as a result.  It’s a tragedy that he was unfaithful to his vows, but to abandon those vows is never the answer.  

The crisis in the priesthood– whether the priests are homosexual or heterosexual– is a result of moral vice, but I believe also results from theological errors.  As I sat at the ordination and listened to Tien promise to live his vocation faithfully, I realized that it is not only sin that lies at the heart of these crises, but bad theology.  That is what Father Cutié has shown us.  You don’t leave the Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church unless you don’t understand theologically what the Catholic Church is.

The crisis in catechesis is like the kudzu problem of the South.  Kudzu was imported with good intentions by the Soil Conservation Service in the 30s and 40s to prevent erosion.  Once it was introduced, kudzu spread like mad, sweeping out-of-control, with devastating environmental consequences.  One feature of kudzu is the difficulty to fully eradicate the plant, as its seeds can sit in the ground for years before germinating and its deep buried roots regenerate into healthy kudzu even after attempted removal.

The wacky catechesis of the 60s and 70s was (to give everyone the benefit of the doubt) introduced with good intentions.  There were problems in the 40s and 50s with the way the Faith was handed on.  But now we’re suffering the consequences– in every aspect of our lives.  And just when we look around and wonder if we’re finally through the dark days, a new scandal, a new problem, a new consequence of ignorance creeps in.

“Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as a worthy fellow worker with the Order of Bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock?”

Do our priests and seminarians understand ecclesiology?  Do they know what it even means to be a fellow worker with the Order of Bishops?

“Do you resolve to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith?”

Are our seminarians being trained in Scripture?  Have they read the Catechism?  How do they pass on what they do not have? How do they preach that which they themselves don’t know… or don’t believe?

“Do you resolve to celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?”

How many priests celebrate Mass according to the rubrics given to us by the Church, not trying to make it “theirs” or reinvent the liturgy, but as humble servants bringing the mysteries to the faithful?  Why aren’t priests hearing Confessions regularly, as they promised they would on the day of their ordination?  Is it perhaps due to bad catechesis on the nature of sin??  (We certainly don’t need Confession if we don’t sin!)  

“Do you resolve to implore with us God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to your care by observing the command to pray without ceasing?”

Do we have an understanding of what prayer is?  And why it’s important?  Or has our catechesis abandoned the fact that I’m nothing without a personal, daily relationship with God?  I’m not going to point fingers at priests for not praying, but it’s hard to see a priest abandon his vows and believe that he prays without ceasing.  I’m a firm believer that the devil prowls on priests more than any0ne, because as we all saw in The Dark Knight, evil is more successful in its quest when a good man falls, thus discouraging and scandalizing the faithful.  Priests are human beings with concupiscence, and they sin just like I do.  But when a priest persists in disordered behavior, it’s a clear sign that he’s not praying.

“Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered Himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with Him to consecrate yourself to God for the salvation of all?”

Are we catechizing about sacrifice?  Do we have an understanding of giving your life completely and totally?  Do our priests understand what it means to be united to the Great High Priest, living a life wedded to Holy Mother Church?  

Yes, there is the problem of sin in the Church.  Christ told us it would happen, and it happened the night He ordained the first twelve priests.  One of them remained in his sin and compounded it by suicide.  Another repented of his sin and became the first Pope.  Sin isn’t new to the Church.  But what’s more disturbing to me is the bad theology and moral relativism.  Judas knew what he had done was wrong.  Does Father Cutié?


Happy Feast of the Ascension, everyone– whether you celebrated it today or a few days ago.

I was struck by this line in the Preface of the Mass today:

“Today the Lord Jesus, the king of glory, the conqueror of death, ascended to heaven while the angles sang His praises. Christ, the mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of all, has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where He has gone, we hope to follow.”

It’s one of those times when we would have written a different story; but God knows what He’s doing. Perhaps it seemed to the Apostles that Christ was leaving them alone again. After forty great days of learning more about the kingdom, now He was departing from them — and leaving that kingdom in their hands. Wouldn’t it be better if He just stuck around?

Instead, He leaves them– but doesn’t really leave them. He goes ahead of them to the place He has prepared for them– to be their hope– but He makes good on His promise to never leave them orphans. And after they pray the proto-novena of the Church, He sends them the fullnes of the Spirit to empower them to be His witnesses. And now we are the Messianic people, empowered with that same Spirit for that same mission.

The Ascension is often overlooked. Or, worse yet, simply portrayed as that day when Jesus somehow went up into the sky as the Apostles stood and watched.

But it’s so much more than that. Remember, the Paschal Mystery is the passion, death, resurrection AND ascension of Christ. He wasn’t done yet!

As Pope St. Leo the Great reminds us: “Today we are not only made possessors of paradise but we have ascended with Christ, mystically but really, into the highest heaven, and through Christ we have obtained a more ineffable grace than that which we lost through the devil’s envy.”

Now that’s deep stuff.

The following post is a few different things:

1) a copy of a post from my JoaninRome blog

2) a new post for those of you who didn’t have the joy of reading my JoaninRome blog

3) a rerun for those who did

4) a fitting post for this coming weekend, seeing that I first delivered this speech in front of Cardinal Arinze, whom I will see this Sunday, and Mary Ann Glendon, who had been slated to recieve the Laetare Medal up at UofND this Sunday

5) a fitting post for this weekend, when colleges across the country (including the one that employs me) will be saluting their graduates, who leave the hallowed halls of their alma maters having recieved the greatest gifts an institution of higher learning can give: the truth  (Unfortunately, many will leave institutions not having recieved that.  But I’ll refrain from saying too much about that, seeing that I’m aiming to tag this post “happy things” and a defective education is not a happy thing.)

So, without further ado, I give you the speech I gave last March at a gala in Rome to honor Christendom College’s 25th anniversary:


First, I’d like to say that I’m honored to be able to make this presentation. It’s given me the opportunity, these past few weeks, of stepping back and looking over the last four years. 

This is the perfect place to reflect on the gift Christendom College has been for me. Three years ago, I was studying here with the College Rome program. Right outside this hotel, on the night of April 7th, I camped out in the street with my classmates, awaiting the funeral of our beloved John Paul II. I was able to be present in St Peter’s Square to say goodbye to the only Holy Father I had ever known. Eleven days after the funeral, I was back in the square with my classmates, welcoming our new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. For a history major, and for a passionate Catholic, the months spent here were the most powerful experiences of my life.

When I returned to the States, I chose to continue my education and pursue a graduate degree in theology. It surprised even me, to be quite honest, and I can only explain that it was the urging of John Paul II, guided by the hand of the Father. My Christendom education prepared me for my graduate studies more than I ever thought possible. It wasn’t until I spoke with students with different backgrounds that I realized what a gift Christendom had been for me.

Josef Pieper said that for true learning to take place, a school must be a sheltered place where students can dedicate their time to seek the truth. He reminded us of the original meaning of scholé, – a place for leisure. To quote him: “That is to say, a certain space must be left within human society in which the demands of necessity and livelihood can be ignored; an area which is sheltered from the utilities and bondages of practical life. Within such an enclosure teaching and learning, in general the concern for ‘nothing but the truth,’ can exist unmolested.”

After reading Pieper, I realized this was the environment that had surrounded my years at Christendom College, tucked away in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. No, we did not live perfect, carefree lives – besides our studies, many students had jobs and other concerns. If, during those years, you had asked me if Christendom was a place of leisure, I would have laughed and resumed reading, researching, writing papers, or studying for exams. It was, however, an environment pervaded with the Church, the sacraments, fraternity, and love of truth.

The leisure of which Pieper speaks is a time set aside to pursue truth – not just in studies, but in our daily activities. Truth is more than just facts – it is a way of life. At Christendom, we were able to immerse our daily lives in Jesus Christ, Truth Himself. Not distracted by the cacophony of modern society, we were able to focus on the harmony of reality to hear the whispers of the Triune God.

Christendom’s founder, Dr Warren Carroll, is an educator who knows history cannot be separated from Christ. “Truth exists; the Incarnation happened,” is his favorite phrase, and it encapsulates the vision of education that he has implanted at Christendom. With this Incarnational view of history, the graduates of Christendom emerge, not as one-dimensional minds, but as liberally-educated thinkers that understand where we came from and where we’re going.

For me, Christendom was the sheltered area that Pieper praises. It was not a time to run from the cares of the world, but a time to prepare for them. St. Peter was not sent out the day he was called by our Lord. No, he and all the Apostles first spent time with Christ and were given the necessary formation before going out to all the world.

You must remove yourself from the world for a time in order to prepare for the battle you will face when you return. When you are engaged in the ways of the world, it is impossible to see how the world can ever be different from the way it is. At Christendom, pledging to restore all things in Christ, we experienced true Catholic culture. It was not just something we read about in books; it was something truly embraced. We became participants in true culture, then were sent out after four years to restore whatever places lay in our paths.

Someone recently asked me where I learned to write and think. It surprised me, because I don’t recall taking a class called “Thinking 101.” In fact, I think I took the abilities for granted until the person asked the question. The question had an easy answer: Christendom College. When my friends were at other colleges being taught what to think, I was being taught how to think. While they were being taught to have an open mind, I was having my mind opened to the riches of philosophical and theological thought by professors who actually cared about my education. Professors who sat down at lunch with me. Who talked with me outside of class. Who attended daily Mass with me.

Pieper’s ideal of a school is the answer to the crises of our day. Educate the youth, but educate them inside of solid cultures, so they leave their alma mater’s with truth – both in knowledge and action. G. K. Chesterton said, “It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning, but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while Rome is burning.” It may seem as if we have no time for leisure in education – we need to change the culture and change it now! But Pieper’s leisure – and Christendom College’s – is not a leisure of fiddling while the world collapses. It is a time to study the solution to the crisis – truth – and then go forth to restore the world.

I’m sick… not with the swine flu, but of the swine flu.

At first, it was intriguing.  A global pandemic!

Now that we’re a week into the mess, it seems like we may have over-reacted a bit.  (I say “we” loosely, of course.)

I don’t want to appear cold-hearted to those affected with the disease or the loved-ones of those who have tragically died from the disease.

I also don’t want to be labeled a conspiracy-theorist (although conspiracy theories are pretty fun).  But after reading an article that actually said this: “Abortion is not the only issue in our government. The president is dealing with wars, a possible pandemic, Depression-like financial conditions and everything else.”  I reached my limit.

I know many are saying it, and I might as well join them.  Is this pandemic another way for Obama to save our world? Or is it possibly a red herring?

I’ll just give you this… (and it’s probably been brought up by other news sources, but I stopped watching the news after after November 5th.  So let me go ahead and think I discovered it.)

1) “By April 28, the new strain was confirmed to have spread to Spain, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Israel, and the virus was suspected in many other nations. As a result, WHO raised its alert level to ‘Phase 5’ out of 6 possible, which it defines as a ‘signal that a pandemic is imminent’  By the end of April, 300 schools had closed across the United States and the Mexican government ordered a multi-day shutdown of all non-essential activities in the government and private sector, amounting to a shutdown of most of the country’s economy.”

April 28th.

2) “During the background investigation process for [the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services… Kathleen Sebelius] admitted to ‘unintentional errors’ in tax returns and paid nearly $8,000 in back taxes. … In answer to questions from the Senate Finance Committee during her April 2009 confirmation hearing, Sebelius stated she received $12,450 between 1994 and 2001 from physician [sic] George Tiller. The Associated Press, however, reported that from 2000 to 2002 Tiller gave at least $23,000 more to a political action committee Sebelius established to raise money for Democrats while she was serving as state insurance commissioner.”

[George Tiller is infamous for his late-term abortions, and at least one woman has died from a multi-day abortion procedure performed at Tiller’s clinic abortuary.]

 Kathleen Sebelius was confirmed by the United States Senate and sworn in on April 28, 2009.

I’m just sayin’….

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