Sunday, May 3, 2015

5th Sunday of Easter

May 2, 2015

In looking at this week’s readings we are presented with quite a mixed bag. On the one hand we have the misunderstood Saul/Paul. The disciples were afraid of him because of his bold proclamation, indeed the entirety of Acts is laced through with a little paranoia. In the Gospel we have vines and grapes, a thorny and entangled question if there ever was one. We also have John, placid, hopeful and very different in tone. One thing these seemingly disparate passages present however are images of ourselves.

I have been thinking a good bit about our attitude toward ourselves this week. Perhaps this is a reasonable meditation as we approach the end of the semester, the end of the year and we become, in times of stress, our truest selves.

This one goes off the deep-end. This one is now completely catatonic. This other one is in a frenzy of extroversion.

I wrote a paper for the class I am taking at CUA on the paschal mystery. In the paper, I stated that I believe that our main problem with discipleship is that we become focused on this or that and that thing dominates our ability to think about God. I think most of us, like so many others in the Church focus on a single thing and I think that thing is hell.

Today’s parable of the vine ends (or at least we think it ends) where we expect it to, in the fire.

Jesus is going to throw out the trash. How can we ward that off?

Our lives are so entwined with sin that we can scarcely hope to see the light of day, much less the perpetual day of heaven.

We think that most of the Bible, especially the words of Jesus are a threat.

But that isn’t the message of the Gospel at all, the message of the Gospel is salvation

The message of the Gospel is Christ taking us to himself, disciplining us, yes, but so that we can be his very own disciples, preparing us for a reward that, literally we cannot begin to conceive.

This past week I had the privilege of being asked to speak at Marian College in Indianapolis. The topic was hell, I mean that was the actually topic, not an evaluation of a difficult topic. Everything seemed to go well. I had a lot of Dante material to draw on but my message was not so well-received.

I later learned through the source of all information, that is, Keucher, that my talk was criticized for being too lib. That may be a first for me but that’s alright because the main thing I wanted to convey was that hell is probably too difficult for most of us to get into. I mean that.

It’s hard to go to hell. You have to envision things pretty carefully.

You have to have an overarching plan, a plan that needs to play out over decades.

You have to have a desire within you to truly appreciate its infernal landscape, lust for a connection with its citizenry, relish its awful achievements.

It’s hard to go to hell. And yet so many of us believe it is too easy.

People in our parishes are afraid of hell

Our Church, and the life of faith is often constructed around staying out of hell.

We know the sins, or should I say sin that will send us straight to hell.

Go to confession, another get out of jail free card.

Today we have the vine and the branches but the message is not infernal, the message is one of prosperity and hope.

Vines are interesting. They take a great deal of cultivation and here is the core of the matter: They can only be about one thing.

What is it saying that we so readily accept the fact that we are just so useless and unneeded that we are constantly in fear of being gathered into the fire and destroyed?

What is it saying when the parable wants to show us the exact opposite, Christ intends to make us shine.

Thankfully we have the words of St. John today

God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.

Because our hearts, O our hearts

Our hearts are broken, brothers and sisters. We cannot love others because we cannot love ourselves.

Our hearts are desperate, we long for the one thing and yet, how often we do not know that thing for which we long and so we wander in search of lovers that can never satisfy.

The heart is a lonely hunter

And yet …

God knows everything.

He knows what we do and what we don’t do

He knows the brokenness that I mask with anger and despair

He knows the warmth I seek because I try to be so cold

He knows the knowledge from which I divorce myself because I think I am so smart.

He also knows something else, something we do not always know.

God knows, he loves us and he desires us to be his own.

That is something we have a hard time swallowing

That is scandalous grace.

Grace is a scandal because it confounds our expectations that just beyond the horizon of our imaginations there is a pit and in a moment we are ready to fall into it.

Grace is the voice that speaks to us saying: That death is not for you, that desctuction is not your end.

Grace is the arms of God that grasp tightly even as we violently fidget away so that we can fulfill our own imagined destiny.

Grace scandalizes us, because it points out that God wants us more than we can ever imagine wanting ourselves.

That scandalous grace brings us to the precipice and whispers in our ear: This is not for you.

I am for you. I want you.

Grace scandalizes us because it presents the fearsome all powerful, thundering God of hell in a vulnerable light, in the warm light of personal desire, and that person is us.

I know: All of this is too lib. You say: We need a bit of hellfire and brimstone to send us off this year.

Well, how about this? I will let you mix that little cocktail in your rooms.

Here we enter the halls of liberality. Christ has died and he is risen.



Monday, April 20, 2015

3rd Sunday of Easter

You are witnesses of these things.

The Emmaus story forms such an important link in St. Luke’s Gospel, the link between the event of the resurrection and the proclamation of the nascent Church, the connection between the Jewish world and the Gentile World, the understanding between the message of Jesus and the life of discipleship found in the Acts of the Apostles.

For many years I have been pondering the Emmaus story. I have used it endlessly in retreats and conferences, I have preached on it, I have seen it as the necessary bridge between the Scriptures and, well, life. I have commented on its length, its details, its particularities, its theological certitude, the mystery of the Eucharist and its structure, the names of the disciples, the reality, if there is one, of Emmaus, its supposed distance from Jerusalem. There is no doubt that Emmaus is an important story not only for me but for the whole of the Church, writ large on the pages of time, through history.

But we do not have the Emmaus story today, we have the end of it to be sure:

The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them
in the breaking of bread.

But that is only the end. Today, on this Third Sunday of Easter we have the aftermath of Emmaus.

And what is that aftermath? Stories told in shorthand, seemingly random appearances, touch, no touch, peace be with you, eat some fish. After the grand and well-constructed narrative of Emmaus, we have left over fragments, fragments like those baskets of breadcrumbs left over from the feeding of the five thousand.

Today, we have sideways glances at the post-resurrection world and we are left with the question, a question hanging in the air after the great narrative:

What comes next?

It is a good question, and in St. Luke’s great narrative arc, the Acts of the Apostles comes next, the post-Pentecost Church comes next, in other words, we come next.

After the grand narrative of the resurrection the Church is left, at least in some ways in our hands. We come next, our daily bread comes next, our quotidian routine comes next, life comes next

And we are the witnesses

Truly we are
We are the witnesses
Witnesses to the daily miracles of formation, a fleeting insight, a heart murmur that speaks in some throbbing way the presence of God in a world of confusion, isolation, doubt and pain
We are the witnesses
We are the witnesses in your futures in ministry as you make your way to the grade school, to talk with a crying little boy or girl, a child robbed of her dignity at home, the place where she should feel safe, a little boy bullied by eight year old classmates because he is different. It is not a grand narrative, but it is their grand narrative and …

You are the witnesses

You are the witnesses in hospitals, for children whose parent is slipping away, whose guilt overwhelms them, who need some comforting words in an isolated waiting room, some assurance that they are going to be alright, that it is all going to be alright. Here is the resurrection unfolding among highlights magazines and used coffee cups.

You are the witnesses

You are the witnesses in confessionals, in halting speech, in words so filled with shame that they cannot be spoken except in gurgles. You listen, or you speak. As penitents you listen for those syllables, I absolve you. As confessors you speak the words of Christ a word that transports us from that dank closet to the seashore of Galliee, the upper room, the helm of a ship

You are the witnesses

You are the witnesses in offices filled with frustration, in rectories filled with secrets, in cars traveling back and forth to the brink of a seeming nowhere, in long, awkward funeral processions, in the throaty laughter of spring parish picnics, on the playground.

Here is the aftermath of Emmaus. Here is the fragmented vision of the risen Christ. Here is God in the nutshell of the daily grind. Here is mysticism in the call of the forgotten. Here is God incarnate in a piece of bread and a gulp of wine and brothers and sisters …
You are the witnesses

Brothers and sisters, now we are deep into the season of ordination. Last weekend seven of our seminary brothers lay down on the floor of the abbey church. Yesterday, Basillio took a tumble into the infinite on the floor of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Owensboro. Next weekend, it will be Braden’s turn. One by one, sometimes in twos and threes, our Third Year brothers will be transformed. Our fourth year brothers will be changed. They will go down on the floor. They will hear the names of the saints pass over them. They will have the hands of the bishop placed on their heads. They will hear the words of consecration. They will not emerge the same man.

And you are the witnesses.

In everything we do here, from the sublime to the ridiculous, you are the witnesses of the power of God working, chugging away in our lives, in every moment, in every gesture great and small, in the grand narratives and in the small stories, in the shards of life, the quietness, the mystical place of encounter, in our rooms, in the dining room, the classroom, the chapel, the chambers of your hearts.

We are the witnesses of Easter and Easter is about one thing: Easter is conversion. It is a change in Christ certainly. But it is a change in me, it must be a change in me.

I am not the same person I was last year, yesterday, when I got up this morning.

I don’t care what vocation you are pursuing, realize that you are called, not to a life of sameness but to the uniqueness of each day, the beauty of each day, the tragedy of each day, the glory of each day, the wonder of each day, the proclamation of each day, the Easter of each day.

The resurrection is not an old story. It is new each hour, each moment.

We are about to encounter the risen Christ again
And we are the witnesses

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Monday April 13

What is there to say? Easter should be over. The resurrection is well-celebrated, but now, please, ended. The eggs are consumed and the candy has gone to half-price at Walmart. Said and done!

The wind blows where it wills,
and you can hear the sound it makes,

And that’s about it.

Except for course, it’s not it. It’s not even nearly it.

In spite of current trends:

Jesus continues to show up.

Here’s a little story

Last week I was sitting in my room reading an article in my chair. I was minding my own business when out of the corner of my eye I sensed a fluttering. I looked up, noticed the fan wasn’t running and then looked to the window. Now remember, I live on the fifth floor.

There, at the window was a man, looking into my room, looking at me. I waved at him. He waved back, then I realized, he was one of the men repairing the roof.

I can truly say I have never had anyone peering in my window on the fifth floor, yet there he was.

There he was.

We might say that about Jesus as well.

In spite of current trends:

Jesus continues to show up.

It is true, we expect him to show up at certain times.

In the chapel,

In prayer, in this or that.

But not at my window, not during my private time, my reading time.

The wind blows where it wills,
and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit

Now we see what the Church is up to. Easter is waning in our imaginations but we are being prepared for the age of the Spirit.

That age of the spirit tells us how we now must live. It tells us that

We must live revived
We must live renewed
We must live reborn
We must live reclaimed
We must live reconstituted so that our old nature falls away like withered leaves to be brought to life like the buds of spring, the blooms of dogwoods. The bloom is a little late but here it is.
We must live resurrected, we must live in the resurrection, we must live in the hope of the resurrection and there is nothing now that the specter of death can threaten us with, nothing that the fear of death and destruction can hamper us with, nothing that we cannot overcome having been washed in the blood of the Lamb and made solid in that immolation.

Brothers and sisters, in these days of celebrating the cosmic mystery of life and death, of destruction and rebirth we are convoluted. God convolutes us. He confounds our expectations. He peers in at the windows of our lives, he confronts our privacy making us spectacles of ourselves in his great revelation, in Easter, in time


The wind blows where it wills,
and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit

And we celebrate it.
We celebrate it in shouts of alleluia that drown the din of penitential verses
We celebrate it in spirits newly alive, reborn in the saving waters of new birth
We celebrate it in the coming among us of new deacons, new men of God whose generosity knows no bounds, whose life knows no compromises even as they arise from the humility of the earth, prostrate spirits to be recalled to the living God in acts of ordination, of ordering, of setting up
We celebrate it in small acts of preserving life by listening to, caring for our brothers and sisters here.
We celebrate it day by day, moment by moment in lives whose patterns have been traced in the blood of Christ, whose measurements are now taken in the tokens of eternity and whose outlines now startlingly take the form of a cross. The cross, the symbol of life.

And we are made new.

Jesus appears to us today, peering through the windows of our privacy. Like a divine roofer, he calls out to us in the words, in the sacrament, in the other, in the harrowing sound of the wind:


The wind blows where it wills,
and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit




Conference III

In my reading for this past month, I have been very caught up with the Ghent altarpiece, a monumental work of the Flemish master, Jan Van Eyck. Since its appearance in the Church of St.Bavo in Ghent almost 500 years ago the altarpiece has seen a world unfold around it. It has been stolen, numerous times, most recently and famously by the Nazis during World War II when it ended up in a salt mine in Austria. It has been copied numerous times. It has been kidnapped and held for ransom. It has been threatened with fire. If its history is complex, its iconography is even more so. Literally hundreds of books have been written on the symbolism found in this single work of art. The commentators don’t always agree but that seems to be a part of the game. The details seem boundless. There are images and symbols in the clothes, in the hair, on the ground, hundreds of symbolic plants in a field, tapestry, arrangement. What is interesting is how much for granted all of these complex symbols seem to be, how they must have confronted the viewers of the altarpiece, found, historically, and somewhat prosaically in a side chapel in St. Bavos in Ghent. And this is only one object among many thousands of works of art all inviting, all beckoning something found, not only in connoisseurs, but in the average man or woman who happened to pass by this side chapel, this altar, this museum wall, or whatever. In other words, art presents for us a vision of how we should be, interpreters, complex symbolologists, men and women who seek deeper truths in surface truths. And our culture has given us another clue. This altarpiece is not for you and me, it is not for us. Art is for the elite, for the cognoscenti. Religion must speak to something more ”common” in the human person. It must be more democratic. It must not require a great investment of time and mental energy. Religion, like life, therefore, at least we are told, cannot take in the complexities of art.

Before the break, the denizens of my elective class took a little pilgrimage to Georgia. We went to the town of Millidgeville to see the place where Flannery O’Connor lived, where she prayed and where she is buried. It was a pilgrimage. In the class we have been exploring the complexities of Flannery O’Connor’s writings, the ways in which she uses her Catholic heritage, the investment she made in studying theology, her dynamic way of presenting characters, settings, symbols. Flannery O’Connor was a literary genius, but reading her for any profit takes some investment. We have to know a little about her life. We have to understand her Catholic story, a story also of the southern United States. We have to find the connection between names and places, in the way people talk. We have to search for complicated reversals in order to achieve the moral lesson that O’Connor intends to teach us. When we read her, in spite of the colloquial nature of her writing, we are soon led to understand that this is not easy, this is not mere reporting. This is literature and literature requires something of us. It requires us to think. True literature, classic literature does not yield up its treasures willingly and so we are led to believe, even told to believe that it is not for us. Literature is also for the elite, no matter if they do write like hillbilly Thomists. Literature is too complex for the democratic mind to take in.

In the coming weeks I am presenting a couple of lectures to our deacons. They won’t be listening, I know that well enough, but I will be lecturing on Eastern Rite Catholicism. One of things I will tell them that they will not hear is how the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, following upon the principles of Eastern spirituality focus on the complexity of the Eucharistic ideal. For Eastern Rite Catholics, the liturgy is like a complicated ballet or an esoteric poetry reading. It piles image upon image, it twirls in circles, bringing the worshiper with it. It becomes a living symbol of the complicated encounter between the divine and the human, that is, a living symbol of the Incarnation, that tensile reality that is replicated in all of its complexity in everything we say and do that is true, orthodox, authentic and inconvenient. I do not think that the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church are any “better” than the Western Rite that we are used to. I do think that culturally, Eastern Catholicism has not become overrun with the cult of convenience that so plagues our Roman Rite parishes. We are so caught up in time and convenience that the very complexity of worship has been thrown out the window. In so many ways it seems that in the Western Rite the sole arbiter of quality is the question: “How long is this going to last”, the message being, the shorter the better, after all we need to get on with our lives. Complexity cannot be a part of this vision of worship and the Church. Keep it simple stupid priests and we will have a good experience, at least until we realize in our heart of hearts that we are not satisfied with the fast and simple. We search for, long for something more, something deep and real and meaningful, really meaningful. We want worship to take up our time. We want worship to demand something of us. We don’t want worship to be pedantic and understandable. We want complexity, even if we say we want it quickly. We have just come from celebrating in our various places the Easter Vigil. How many people show up for the Easter vigil and how many people complain that it’s just too long and too late, that is too inconvenient.
Now we can turn to our subject for this semester, celibacy. In a world aching from having been robbed of its complexity, is there any way we can find meaning for celibacy? In other words, if you want things free and easy, celibacy is not your choice. It is not your choice not because of what it entails in terms of sacrifice, but from what it entails in terms of responsibility. Celibacy, as a life choice, is by definition a choice for complexity and depth, but we must make sure of one thing, that is that we have the ability to construct lives of complexity and depth, because if we insist on living shallow and easy lives, celibacy has no place and cannot be meaningful.

And so, we shun complexity in the name of something we hold much dearer than meaning, freedom. In our current generational strata this gets culturally reiterated as a desire for, really a lust for choice. Choice is the token order of the day. We must keep ourselves open to what is out there whether this applies to a job, a wife, a place to live, education etc. The lust for choice is an attitude that we are told not only that we can have but that we must have in order to be “modern” people. Old fashioned values such as celibacy (or any long-term commitment for that matter) must be put aside. We must remain open to what is presented and then when we discover that nothing is presented, we must write our own narrative. Our own narrative is to be preferred to the narratives that a cultural history have given us. There is no history, there is only the moment, a moment that must be seized if we are to be happy. From investigating my generational studies, two things have presented themselves that touch upon our context here. The first is that many US seminarians are conflicted. They know at some level that they want the eternal things, the really long for them. They understand the value of real cultural imperatives. You acknowledge the need to preserve lasting truths and yet you have a difficulty. You do not know how to attain them. You do not know where to even begin the search for them. In other words, your core self, that self that hears the call of the eternal God has set you on a path that is totally unfamiliar. You cannot find your way so often because there is nothing in your conditioning to prepare you for that journey. Second, international seminarians and priests often do not share this cultural bias for innovation, change and popularity. Their values are still based upon codes written in them culturally by their native places. They value ancestry. They look to the past for answers in the present. They understand and respect what has gone before and while not unwilling to see that tradition in the context of a new culture, they instinctively desire to maintain it. So what get’s said of our international brethren? They are out of date. They must move into the modern world. They have not adequately read the “signs of the times”. That dichotomy lies at the core of our current presbyteral situation. Our presbyterates cannot get along, and ultimately not thrive if they cannot find cultural common ground and so many of them end up not in growth and visionary mode but in survival mode. We are trying to keep the Church alive rather than preside over its triumph.

In this context, I believe it is essential for us to review the ideals of freedom we so passionately uphold. We have spent a great deal of cultural license exploring the ideal of freedom as lack of constraint, or libertarianism. We have a political ideal that freedom is freedom from some situation or undesirable condition. Freedom in this understanding is not being chained. This is not the ideal of freedom presented by the Church or represented in our declaration of freedom which we have heard recently proclaimed by our soon-to-be deacons and priests. In this context freedom is the liberty of my choice, that is the liberty I gain by making a choice, which overall may curtail the extent of my freedom. In other words, freedom is not not being chained, rather it is choosing that thing to which I am chained, recognizing that chaining is the true order of the human person, commitment, integrity of relationship, these are essential to authentic personhood and authentic freedom. In this context then, freedom is choosing our chains and choosing the wonder that goes with this complexity. In other words, true freedom does not make us promiscuously available to all who present themselves for our allegiance; rather, freedom is creating a life of complexity, a life of symbolism, a life of vital image and the action that such a life implies.

In the context of this discussion, celibacy is a free act that chains us to the complexity of life. It is a type of slavery and one that I desire. I want that slavery and this is spirituality.
Celibacy is a preparation for heaven, both a personal preparation and a preparation of those in our charge, those whom we have been freed to serve. No one is in a position to wish to make claims about heaven, or freedom in heaven, or the importance of culture in heaven, or the historical ramifications of heaven, and yet we, bound as we are on that journey to our homeland think that something ought to be radically different in this world than it is in the next. In the next, we are neither married nor given in marriage, and yet we claim that such as state in the putrid corruption of this world is unnatural. What is natural for us in heaven is natural for us here. Is that not the upshot of our proclamation of the truth of the Incarnation? How can we claim that Christ has anything whatsoever to do with this world when we refuse to grant Him the freedom to impose on this world new conditions for living in a post-Incarnation world? How can we ever grasp that heavenly vision offered to us by our baseness?

Celibacy fully lived is charges with Eros. It is charged with the dynamic physical energy of the human person fully alive, in the terms of St. Ireanaus. Celibacy fully lived offers my best self to a world in need of rediscovering its depth. It offers my best self. How can a bridegroom be seen as fully committed to his bride if he shows up for his wedding scruffy and ill-suited for the occasion. In our celibate commitment each day we present ourselves to the Bride of Christ, the Church as worthy suitors. In order to accomplish this, we must understand what we are doing and be fully committed to doing it. In this context how can we ever see celibacy as a lack? Celibacy is my wedding garment and one that gives me access to the authentic Incarnational banquet. Celibacy is my lamp kept burning brightly awaiting the entrance of the Bridegroom into the paschal banquet. Celibacy is my all-in-all, my hope, my future conquest and present beatitude. My point with all of this is simple. If we cannot see the complexity of this event of celibacy we cannot make sense of it at all. If we cannot see the symbolic form it takes, which resolves itself in action, then we cannot see its internal logic. In other words, we must train our minds and our souls in order to live authentic priestly lives. Culture, literature, the arts, spirituality, all of these are the boot camp of re-imagining the human person, over and over, in order to bring us home to our true places of being. I can assure you of this, lives lived in abjection, lives lived on the internet, lives lived in front of video-game monitors, these lives, seeking as they are ephemeral triumph will never be able to regard the eternal things as meaningful at all.  Ultimately the question is this: Are we preparing ourselves for a homecoming, or are we preparing ourselves for the ultimate disappointment, the damnation of the temporal?


Friday, April 10, 2015

Celibacy II

Last week there was a story on CNN about modern atheists. The story is about a couple called Harry and Charlotte Shaunessy. Harry grew up in a Catholic family and Charlotte converted to Catholicism when she and Harry married. They raised their children as Catholics and then the whole family decided to become atheists. The cover photo is of a deliriously happy looking Harry waving at the camera. This is the “new face” of atheism. How did we get to that point?

I want to quote a bit from the story because I think some issues are raised that touch our work here rather profoundly:

Charlotte found it awkward to sit with a celibate man and share intimate secrets – like the fact that she and Harry disobeyed the church's ban on birth control. (They call Grace their "broken condom baby.") Harry wondered whether telling a priest you're sorry and reciting a few Our Fathers could really wipe a sinner's soul clean. Even Hitler? Charles Manson? If Harry had talked to a priest, he might have been told that confession doesn't work quite that way. It requires true penitence, a commitment to changing your sinful ways — and in the end, only God decides who to forgive. But Harry didn't consult a priest, and the more he and Charlotte talked, the more they confessed their conflicts with the church. They disagreed with its opposition to same-sex marriage. They didn't understand the doctrine of original sin, which condemns every infant for Adam and Eve's appetite. The Bible stories, like Noah's Ark, sounded to them like fairy tales. Eventually, Harry and Charlotte reached the thorniest question: Did they belong in the Catholic Church?

The story goes on to explain that the only religious group in the United States that is larger than Catholics is former Catholics. This is all familiar enough to us. If we follow contemporary trends at all we would note that the dissemination of misinformation, the indifference of priests, the lack of skill in catechesis, the stretched nature of liturgical celebration, all of these things and more are participants in the current migration of Catholics from their Church.

Atheism is becoming the default order of the day. Are the reasons for the adherence to atheism the same reasons expressed by those rancorous pioneers, Nietzsche, Marx and Freud? Or are the reasons for modern atheism more mundane?

I say the reasons for atheism in our culture today are two-fold. One is the predilection of the culture. We live in a culture that sees religion as superfluous. This should not come as a surprise for us. We have been lured into a false sense of security with the language of separation of Church and State. We have been led to believe that we can have it all, an excellent life of prayer and faith and a good sense of citizenship. But faith is becoming increasingly marginalized. We do not have the primary sense of the person in our vision any more. We are taught that faith is a private matter and therefore should be kept from the sphere of public discourse. Faith is what we do on Sunday, for those who wish and even within that context keep it short so that consumer activities can still rule. How often do we hear: I cannot go to Church, I have to work. I cannot go to Church we have a game. I cannot go to Church because I am too tired on Sunday to go after all of the activities of the week. Without trying to sound paranoid, one might ask: Is this not the design of the culture, to make the meaningful practice of faith so inconvenient that we just decide to give up?

The second reason that I see for the rise of modern atheism is this. We are not doing a good job of promoting the value of our faith. This is a litany I am getting tired of reciting. How many of our parishes today are barely making it with one very quick Mass on Saturday night or Sunday, a host of decaying building including an asbestos filled unused school, and little or nothing happening all week? The Church is not a memory. The Church is not a memorial to your grandparents. The Church is not a building. The Church is the living Body of Christ consumed by the need to be central in the life of its participants. The Church is the living House of God that reaches out to others in their need, that provides social service, and that educates and forms its members from womb to tomb. The Church is a place where lives are changed frequently, where the sacraments are fully celebrated, and where confessions are heard and not “by appointment”. We might fault the couple in the CNN story for not being proactive enough in the pursuit of their faith, but we must also rightly ask: Where was the motivation? Where was the catechesis? Where was the understanding of the most basic principles that might have aided Charlotte and Harry in the pursuit of a meaningful faith?

We would be remiss in our attentiveness to the needs of formation here if we did not acknowledge the challenges that the Church faces. We know that the Church cannot die. We know that the divine mandate insures the survival of the Church. But when placed in our hands, what are we doing with the divine spouse? Are we feeding and nourishing it, or are we torturing it to death in the name of our tastes and predilections, in the name of money, in the name of numbers, or in the name of pride and personal will?

What are the critiques that the modern world is leveling against our ancient faith? One need not go far to find these critiques. Read the article on

It is out of date with the times. Going back to the book of Sam Harris, we find presented there the idea of “currency” as the ultimate arbiter of truth in a culture bent on the moment. Is it up to date? That which is found lacking in this context is frowned upon. In this context we need only examine the way in which culture and the arts are dealt with in our country. A concern for music, art, really anything of lasting value is considered useless. The timeless has no place in a culture of popular currency. This is the nation’s consumer bias at work. I can only really like a thing that is going to be out of date in two weeks so that I have to buy another thing. We don’t re-read books or re-watch great films. With frantic concern we must move on to the next thing. Celibacy, in this context, is out of date with the times because the times bespeak a lack of concern for commitment. I cannot take on the new thing if I am committed to the old thing. It applies where relationships are concerned. It applies to celibacy. Celibacy is anti-cultural. Commitment only has a place in a culture where lasting things are appreciated.

Second, celibacy does not understand the intricacies of the human personality. Another critique raised by Harris is that religion twists and contorts the human personality. Christianity tries to make us into something other than complete human beings. Of course we know the opposite is true, but do we not half believe Harris? How many of us come to the seminary in order to live heroic lives? We want to be warriors for God, to be in the special ops unit. And yet, a seminary that is doing its job should not make us super human, or subhuman. A seminary that is doing its job should make us completely human, just as marriage and family should make those who have chosen this vocation completely and authentically who they are. The human personality is vast and complex. If Harris and other pundits understood Christianity they would know that we have promoted this intricacy of the human person. However, when the Church is backed into the position of only being a 50 minute weekend event, that is, when it is pushed to the margins of human experience it will ultimately be perceived as a mere added decoration on the otherwise complete human person, that is a person “completed” in the crucible of the secular, a world that ironically still does not promote the depth of the human person.

Celibacy as a vocation offers us one thing. It is not the ability to see the human person only form the standpoint of sexuality. Celibacy offers us the freedom to first of all discover who we authentically are and to live it and help others to live their own authenticity. Celibacy will not be adequately lived however when our ideals of human engagement extend only to videogames and drinking. That is where many of your generation find themselves today. Is that the place for us to be if we are going to make sense of celibacy and see it as anything other than a “lack”?

Third, celibacy is unrealistic. Or we might say it another way, celibacy is too isolating. It is said that no one can live it, or that no one can live it normally. To me that is shocking. In the past I have had the opportunity to chat with seminarians about their vocations and this issue comes up frequently. They say: I don’t think I can live a celibate life. I say: Are you living one now? They say: Yes, I have been celibate all of my life. I say: What gives you the feeling that God who has given this gift to you thus far will not sustain it in the future.

If celibacy is a preoccupation with you, ask yourself this: Do you trust God to be true to his word? You might also ask yourself this: If I find myself frequently in a position of experiencing temptation, what am I doing in my life that allows for this? If you are lonely, are you reaching out for friends? If you have problems with the internet, why are you spending so much time on the internet? If you are tempted from watching movies or engaging in certain kinds of conversation, why are you doing that? A careful examination of my life’s activities may lead to a greater ability to cultivate a healthy celibacy, but I can assure you, a healthy celibacy cannot be cultivated in close tandem with the passing fads of popularism. In other words, if you want be a healthy celibate, and the world needs healthy celibates only, if you want to be a healthy celibate you are going to have to grow up.

And all of these critiques get captured, at least in the popular imagination in the issue of celibacy. A recent survey indicated that a majority of Catholics in the United States either disagreed with the Church’s teaching on celibacy or did not fully understand the teaching. What I find interesting about these findings is that the majority of persons who disagree are lay Catholics with no need to fully understand the ideals of celibacy in their eyes. In a similar survey among priests, it was found that celibacy is not a central factor in priestly concerns. I find that somewhat heartening. Seminaries in the past forty years or so have devoted a great deal of time and energy to developing programs for celibacy formation. That investment seems to be paying off. I think it is also important that we in formation have chosen very actively to pursue our discussion of celibacy as a positive factor in priestly service and not a negative factor. Celibacy gives us something rather than robs us of something. In these discussions however and in the intricacies of formation one thing seems very clear: The success of celibacy depends upon one thing, the witness of the celibate man or woman.

Of course there are many potential witnesses. From the standpoint of what is presented to us daily, the majority of these witnesses are negative, men and women who have made a commitment and not lived up to its values. These stories appear every day in the press. They involve abuse and abuses. They are quite public. They are presented as the status quo of celibacy. For many of us here they frighten us, they make us doubt the commitment we are making or have made. When I read these stories, I ask myself this question: What happened or did not happen in his or her formation? How does a lack of preparation lead to a person becoming a public spectacle, or even a court case or a prison sentence? Here are questions I think a bishop must ask? What am I doing in my diocese to further the formation of my priests in terms of their celibate commitment? Are our dioceses presenting an ongoing understanding of celibacy, one that touches on different points in the life story of each priest? Are there support groups among the priests to help them live a good and wholesome celibate life? Where is the accountability? Finally, I think there are questions for the priests themselves. Do I have a spiritual director to assist me in making my transition to parish ministry and to assist me in living out my priesthood in the long scenario? What are the aspects of my lifestyle that may need to change if celibacy is to be perceived by me as a positive rather than a prohibition?

On a more positive note, we must understand the freedom that celibacy gives us to pursue certain authentically human aspects of our life. Celibacy allows for a greater fluidity in relationships and this begins with individual families. Celibacy gives me freedom in my own family dynamics. It allows me to become a point of neutrality in many family matters. Another interesting CNN article this week had the headline: “Did Jesus reject his family” I have come to appreciate increasingly that the nuances of biblical criticism are lost in the media. Celibacy gives me freedom to deal with people in my parish openly and honestly. As Archbishop Sartain puts it in his article in our book for Lenten reading: “In Christ our family expands to include all those to whom he sends us. No matter their age, race, culture, or language, they are our children — and they have a claim on us.” Again, with Sartain, “The gift of celibacy means that, with the consuming love of the Father, the eyes and heart of the Son, and the unifying grace of the Holy Spirit, I must see everyone who comes to me as my immediate family – my brother, my sister, my son and my daughter.” That is a position that requires extraordinary maturity. That is a position that requires me to realize that in putting others first I am not denying myself, rather, in celibacy I am realizing my authentic self as father to the family of God.

Again in our text for this season, Msgr. Heintz rightly states: “Nemo dat quod non habit” One cannot give what one does not have. Unless we have a genuine and honest sense of ourselves we really cannot make a gift of ourselves.” The one who approaches the altar for ministry must come with a deep sense of awareness, a sense of his strengths and his limitations. The celibate life of the priest must be lived with joy.”

The question of celibacy is a significant one for the life of the Church. In formation, we must make this a priority. I hope you have realized already that here at Saint Meinrad we take celibacy very seriously, not because of what can happen, but because we view it as such a gift for the life of the Church. I hold that celibacy is a key to the new evangelization. We must be able to make a case for celibacy in our erotic-drenched society. Celibacy is a key to our credibility.